Saturday, March 17, 2012

Drug testing and Jimmie T. Smith's lies

Let's say you serve in the Florida legislature and you want to pass a law that violates people's constitutional rights, but you want to make sure that the law doesn't apply to you. What to do? It's simple. You completely ignore the Supreme Court case that shows you are acting illegally, but then you rely on that very same case to argue that it protects you!

When the Florida legislature passed the bill requiring general drug testing for all state workers, our representatives and senators conveniently excluded themselves from this requirement. Representative Jimmie T. Smith stated that this was because a U.S. Supreme Court case has held that requiring elected officials to submit to the test would violate their rights. Because Mr. Smith was a supporter of this new bill, it is an unspoken premise of his that the Supreme Court's decision applied only to elected officials, and does not apply to other state employees.

Mr. Smith is being dishonest on this, and the people of Florida deserve to know the truth on this issue.

The Supreme Court case that Mr. Smith was referring to is Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305 (1997). In that case, Georgia passed a law requiring elected officials to pass drug tests as a condition of service. The court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, in that it imposed an unreasonable search without special circumstances being present. The court did not limit its reasoning to elected officials, as Mr. Smith would have the people of Florida believe.

The court stated first that laws such as these impose a search on state workers, bringing into play the federal constitution's provisions on searches. A search must be "reasonable" the court said, and that requires that either there is an "individualized suspicion of wrongdoing," or there are "special needs."

In this case, there is no individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. That is, workers are not tested on an individual basis because of a reasonable belief that any particular individual has violated some law with drug use. Instead, the law requires all workers to be subject to random testing, and those tested are just unlucky, rather than being suspected of crimes. So this test fails.

The court then turned to the issue of "special needs." The court examined precedents, and concluded, "[the] special need for drug testing must be substantial--important enough to override the individual's acknowledged privacy interest, sufficiently vital to suppress the Fourth Amendment's normal requirement of individualized suspicion.... Georgia has failed to show, in justification of [the law], a special need of that kind." This case was different than other cases which upheld suspicion-less drug testing, because the other cases dealt with issues such as law enforcement, and certain jobs where safety could be severely compromised by the use of drugs. The court held that there was no showing of such special needs, and the law was therefore unconstitutional.

Nowhere in any of the court's opinion did it rely on any distinction between elected officials and other state workers. I cannot fathom how anybody can truthfully claim the court did rely on such a distinction.

Now, in Florida's case, Mr. Smith relies on a case to exclude drug testing for elected officials, when that case does not say what he claims. Ironically, the very case he attempts to rely on will be the case used to strike down the law that he and the Florida legislature did pass. That the Georgia law targeted elected officials did not limit the reason it was struck down. Instead, the court's reasoning applied to all state employees, absent individual "special needs." Mr. Smith's argument is like taking a case that holds an owner of a dog liable for the dog's bites, and claiming that it would not apply to the owner of a bear for the bear's bites.

Elected representatives should not be lying to the citizenry regarding their actions. And they should not willingly violate the Constitution as clearly interpreted by the court systems. In this case, Mr. Smith cannot claim to be unaware of the case in question. He cited it for an inappropriate purpose. It is inconceivable that he didn't know what the case actually held. He simply lied about the effect of the case.

We may have grown jaded and expect our politicians to lie to us, but that doesn't make it right. And when the lie is used to justify granting an exemption to themselves, it's even worse. When our politicians lie to us, it's important that somebody point out the truth, so the voters can decide whether that politician should continue in the position of trust that we have granted them.

References: (Chandler v. Miller)

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