A federal appeals court Tuesday agreed to block enforcement of a Florida law that requires people who apply for welfare to submit to drug testing, calling it an unreasonable search.
The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously upheld a lower court’s injunction, which stops drug testing for applicants of the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“The simple act of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy,” the judges said.
The ACLU of Florida, with the Florida Justice Institute, challenged the 2011 law on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father who applied for welfare to support his 4-year-old son.
“I am thrilled for Luis and his family, and for the thousands of class members he represents, that yet another court has affirmed that all of us are protected from unreasonable, invasive, suspicion-less searches,” Maria Kayanan, associate legal director for the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “The state of Florida can’t treat an entire segment of our community like suspected criminals simply because they are poor and are trying to get temporary assistance from the government to support their families.”
Judge Rosemary Barkett said in the ruling that the state failed to prove that there was any reason to treat poor families in Florida as more likely to be drug users.
Since Florida passed its law, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Utah and Tennessee also have approved measures requiring citizens who apply for government assistance to submit to drug tests. The ACLU said other states have passed similar laws, and legislatures in many other states are considering such legislation.
In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, issued an executive order requiring state employees to undergo mandatory drug tests as well. A federal judge also blocked that move.