A federal appeals court has upheld a federal judge's decision blocking enforcement of a state law that requires drug tests for people applying for welfare. Gov. Rick Scott immediately vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Writing for a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Rosemary Barkett wrote that the state had shown no "empirical evidence" showing higher drug use among welfare recipients.
"The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida's mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children," Barkett wrote in a 38-page opinion. "Yet, there is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a 'concrete danger' that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.."
The decision is a blow to the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, who called the ruling "disturbing." Scott had made drug-testing part of his campaign platform three years ago, arguing that it would ensure that all welfare dollars were going to support legitimate family needs and not drugs.
"Welfare is 100 percent about helping children," Scott said in a statement Tuesday. "Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the well-being of Florida families."
The case was brought in September 2011 by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union on behalf of University of Central Florida tudent Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single parent of a four-year-old son. Told he could not receive welfare unless he took a drug test, Lebron refused, while insisting that he was not using drugs.
U.S, District Judge Mary Scriven ruled that the law was a potential violation of the search and seizure provisions of the U.S. Constitutions and said the state must halt enforcement of it until a full trial can occur.
The state then appealed to the 11th Circuit.
"The court's decision clearly states that the Fourth Amendment's protection against being subjected to these kinds of invasive searches protects us all, including those of us who are struggling to make ends meet in this tough economy," said ACLU attorney Maria Kayanan.
"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."