Vincent: Pilot? What’s a pilot?

Jules: Well, you know the shows on TV?

Vincent: I don’t watch TV.

Jules: Yeah, but, you are aware that there’s an invention called television, and on this invention they show shows, right?


Ohio Senate Republicans have proposed a three-county, two-year program where welfare applicants who are suspected of having a drug problem would have to submit to and pay for drug tests before receiving benefits.  The Dispatch notes that Ohio is not unique:  the “move appears to be part of a renewed national GOP movement to require drug testing for welfare recipients. . . .  revised laws have been introduced this session in about 30 states, and lawmakers in Georgia, Utah, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Louisiana have moved legislation in recent weeks.”

The Ohio GOP reminds us of Vincent from Pulp Fiction.  We want to be Jules and say to them, “Yeah, you are aware that there’s this invention called the Constitution, and as part of this invention they protected many of our rights, right?”

The proposal to drug test welfare recipients is just the latest effort of Republican legislators to import ideological ideas from other states.  But at least by bringing in ideas in from other states, we don’t have to guess that the proposals are unconstitutional.  We know.  We know because judges have already ruled that these efforts in other states are unconstitutional.

The legal analysis here is pretty straight forward.  Drug tests are a search. The Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches except under very limited circumstances.  In the nineties, Georgia passed a law requiring all candidates for state office to pass a drug test.  The Supreme Court held that this law was unconstitutional.  The Court reasoned that drug tests can only be required in exceptional situations, like when there is a strong public-safety interest (train operators, for example, can be required to submit drug tests after a crash).  The Supreme Court famously said, the Fourth Amendment does not allow the state to diminish “personal privacy for a symbol’s sake.”

Drug tests for welfare recipients are unconstitutional because the program does not qualify as a public-safety type interest that would justify a search.  These people have not done anything wrong – and if the government has evidence that they possess drugs, then they could and should be prosecuted under the existing drug laws.  The fact is that the Constitution prohibits the state from searching people’s bodily fluids for no reason.

(What about the idea that welfare recipients have no “right” to receive benefits and therefore the state can require recipients to take a test to receive the benefits?  This does not make the law constitutional.  The Supreme Court has been clear that even though a person has no right to a governmental benefit, the state may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected rights.)

You don’t have to believe our analysis.  A number of federal courts have held that drug testing welfare applicants does meet the public safety threshold to be constitutional.  In 2000, Michigan decided to implement a “pilot program” that required drug testing of welfare recipients in three counties (sound familiar?).  A federal court held that the program was unconstitutional and issued an injunction.  You can read the opinion here.

Last year, Florida attempted to implement a similar program.  The result in the courts was the same.  A federal judge ruled that the program was unconstitutional and issued an injunction.  You can read that opinion hereNews reports about the decision described it as “scathing.”   The judge found that such a “blanket intrusion[] cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”  (Florida’s governor also tried to implement drug testing for state employees, but that, too, was blocked by a federal judge as unconstitutional.)

This is part of a disturbing pattern.  This is not the first time that the Republicans in the Ohio Legislature have attempted to pass laws that have been found to be unconstitutional in other states.  For example, we noted that Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood had been found unconstitutional in other states.  The bottom line seems to be that many of the Republicans in the Ohio Legislature have decided to put ideology and the scoring of cheap political points above their oaths to defend the Constitution.

UPDATE: Republicans pulled the language from the bill this morning, but they say they’re going to revisit the issue at a later date.

  • Somebody once shared a college Republican’s photo with me that had the caption “If I have to take a drug test to get my paycheck, you should have to take a drug test to get your welfare check!”

    I left the comment “Yeah! When are those liberals gonna realize that everyone in the U.S. should get a mandatory drug test!”

    I got no response.

  • JaneMP

    Wait, aren’t the Republicans the party of fiscal reposnsibility and small government?   So they’re going to spend money for these tests at the same time they force government-required testing on people?  Sounds fairly BIG government to me and costly.

  • tudorman

    That somebody is voluntarily ingesting a substance which you don’t like = bad.

    Taking money from some people by force and giving it to others = no problem.

    Hey, Republicans – don’t choke on that fly while you swallow the elephant.

  • missskeptic

    The biggest problem in Florida was not that they were testing welfare recipients for drugs – it was the fact that the governor’s wife owned the labs where all the testing was being done, thereby reaping a huge amount of dough for Gov. Skinhead.  Can anyone say conflict of interest?

  • Dmoore2222

    These pathetic dopes (excuse the pun). They just can’t help themselves. They have to feel in charge even if it means denying some poor 4-year old food or shelter because his mom or dad MIGHT be smoking pot. I like the idea of drug testing CEOs whose companies get tax breaks or some other kind of government assistance. Now THAT would be revealing. Can’t these guys just concentrate on getting roads and bridges fixed, or something useful like figuring out how to fund public education aftern numerous court decisions? Why do they always want to be in our bedrooms or other private places? Maybe it’s because they never had any fun growing up. Yeah. That’s it. They’re the fun police!

  • Mr. Brown

     EXCELLENT analogy, Dmoore. Republicans should suggest that CEOs whose companies get federal, state, and local assistance in all forms, like tax breaks or concessions, should be drug tested. It’s the same thing as a poor person receiving assistance. After all, corporations are people, my friend!

  • Dmoore2222

    Ha! I love it. I forgot all about that Romney gem. Thanks, Mr. Brown.

  • Dmoore2222

    Ha! I love it. I forgot all about that Romney gem. Thanks, Mr. Brown.

  • This country is being overrun by idiots.
    Idiots who take drugs and live on welfare and prove it is heredetary.
    Idiots who legalize testing employees but not welfare receipents.
    save myself for last,
    Idiots who are stupid enough to keep working to pay for the above.
    This country has become a joke.

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