Federal Circuit Court Rules Against Florida Law to Drug Test Welfare Recipients

In a ruling that may have implications for other states, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the law strongly supported by Florida Gov. Rick Scott that would have required drug testing for applicants of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the federal welfare program known as TANF.

In a unanimous ruling (see the text here) on Dec. 3, 2014, the panel of judges said it was unconstitutional to force applicants to surrender their rights to receive assistance.

“We have no reason to think impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population,” the court said in its 54-page ruling.

The Scott administration could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, although the Court might not take up the appeal without conflicting rulings from Courts of Appeals.

Randall Berg, co-counsel with the ACLU said the decision could have broad ramifications. "The same rationale for requiring suspicionless drug tests of TANF recipients could be used to require suspicionless searches for any kind of government benefit, whether it is social security, farm subsidies, or student scholarships. Today, the court has rejected that rationale, drawing a clear line that will keep us from going down that slippery slope," he said in a statement released by the Florida ACLU.

Michigan is currently considering a similar law this year. Other state legislatures have taken up similar bills in the past.