Court ruling gives mixed message on the Fourth Amendment

Florida rules against drug testing for welfare recipients, but NSA spying is ok? Photo: Honorable Mary Scriven (Official photo)

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2014 — Last week in Florida, the Honorable Judge Mary Scriven released a 30 page decision ruling saying the implementation of drug testing to receive welfare is unconstitutional. Under the grounds of violating the Fourth Amendment, the Constitutional protection that shields citizens from unlawful searches and seizures, Judge Scriven attested that the law tended to treat poor citizens like criminals, and that taking lengths to drug test individuals before they receive money from the government violates their rights.

Judge Scriven particularly singled out the urine tests as a prime example of an “unlawful search and seizure.”

While the ruling renders a decision which makes it is completely unconstitutional to ask that individuals who are reliant upon receiving money from the government submit to a drug test to make sure that the government is not essentially paying for your drugs, the impetus for this ruling is an issue which many American judges seem to be at war over.

The Fourth Amendment reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Just how far can the government go?

In Florida, according to this ruling, it would seem as though requiring drug testing for potential welfare recipients is tantamount to treating said people like criminals. Under the law, potential recipients were required to submit to and pay for a drug test before they received any money. Judge Scriven, who has been a dog on the heels of this law since 2011, said it violates the individual rights against unlawful search and seizure.

With this ruling, could lawsuits potentially brought to the high courts challenging the Constitutionality of requiring drug tests for all job applications?

If it is unconstitutional, and an unreasonable search and seizure, to require drug testing for welfare recipients, how can it be a reasonable search and seizure to require drug testing of job applicants?

Should federal and state governments all over the country now stop screening their employees for drug use before hiring, or stop threatening random drug tests?

There are a lot of different interpretations of the Fourth Amendment, and different states and the federal government seem to have varying views on what exactly constitutes an “unlawful search and seizure.”

If requiring welfare recipients to take a drug test is considered unconstitutional according to the Fourth Amendment as being an “unlawful search and seizure,” and the idea is not to treat people like criminals who have committed no crime, then perhaps gun rights activists should use this particular ruling to sue in their states over recently, and not so recently passed laws.

In Maryland, apparently it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment to require many gun buyers to pay to submit their fingerprints before being considered for a handgun or regulated long gun purchase. Likewise in Florida, before one can receive a concealed carry permit one must pay to submit their fingerprints. It is considered treating people like criminals to require drug tests for welfare, but apparently it is not treating people like criminals to ask them to submit their fingerprints before they buy a firearm they are constitutionally afforded to own.

We cannot forget the national stage, where the most transparent Administration in our nation’s short history has not only defended, but continued to expand, the NSA civilian spying programs. Several lawsuits have been brought in different states challenging the legality of these arbitrary and sprawling data mining operations. Some have ruled that the NSA operations do not violate the Fourth Amendment, and then President Obama pats them on the head and they get a treat. But when judges such as Richard Leon of U.S. District Court rules that the NSA spying program “almost does certainly violate a reasonable expectation of privacy” under the Fourth Amendment, President Obama responded with the notion that it is warranted because it helps fight terrorism.

But why go to the Supreme Court?

The Foreign Intelligence Service Court, which signed off on the NSA surveillance, has ruled numerous times, the most recent being last week, that it is perfectly legal to collect millions of phone records from people who have done nothing to warrant such collection. How is it that the very body originally responsible for granting the NSA the necessary warrants has become responsible for overseeing the legality of their own decisions?

So apparently spying arbitrarily upon your citizens is not seen as a blatant disregard for the Fourth Amendment, but drug testing for welfare is.

The Fourth Amendment is one of the first lines of defense against government in cases of overt tyranny and oppressive use of force. However, when the government gets to define and determine for themselves what actually constitutes a violation of the law then it represents a clear and present danger to the preservation of liberty.

This ruling in Florida, the Foreign Court rulings, Judge Leon’s ruling, all show the disjointing and misapplication of the Constitution across the country. While the Constitution may be strong in Florida, it is weak in Maryland. Where it is held unconstitutional to require drug tests to receive government money, it is held Constitutional for the government to arbitrarily spy in their own people.



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Conor Higgins

Conor Higgins has a B.A. from Catholic University in DC in American History, with a concentration on guerrilla warfare on American soil. He has an M.A. in US History from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, with a concentration on Cold War insurgency. He believes that all news and all information should be taken with a grain of salt, and implores people everywhere to seek news stories everywhere. 

Higgins is also a fervent believer in the traditional role of media, in terms of acting as a balanced check on government policies and individuals regardless of party affiliation. But in the end, he believes that no matter how heated an issue is, there is nothing that can't be discussed over a smoke and some whiskey. 

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