By Phillip Smith
A US district court judge in Missouri ruled Friday that a technical college violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures when it ordered all students to submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests. The judge did allow the drug testing of students in a small number of programs where school officials could make a reasonable argument that public safety was at stake.
The ruling by Judge Nanette Laughrey in Jefferson City came in Barrett v. Claycomb, a case filed by Linn State Technical College students against the college and its president, Donald Claycomb, after the college announced in 2011 it would require all incoming students to undergo drug testing.
Federal courts have traditionally held that drug testing by government entities without particularized suspicion that an individual is using drugs is unconstitutional. The federal courts have upheld only limited exceptions -- for minor school students, for certain law enforcement personnel, and for public safety -- but Linn State had argued that its policy was constitutional because some of its students were training in professions with public safety implications.
But citing the school's own admission that there had never been a drug-related accident in the 50-year history of the campus and closely reading previous federal court decisions on the public safety exception, Judge Laughery found that in only three academic programs of the 28 offered by the school was there a sufficient public safety interest that would allow suspicionless drug testing.
The judge issued a permanent injunction barring Linn State from conducting suspicionless drug tests of students except in those three programs. She also ordered the school to destroy all existing urine samples from students who are not in those programs and to refund the $50 drug test cost to all those students.
The students in the case were represented by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which challenged the drug testing policy in a 2011 lawsuit.
"Like most Americans, Missourians are tired of the War on Drugs and policies that assume that everyone is guilty of illegal drug use," said ACLU of Eastern Missouri executive director Jeffrey Mittman. "The court recognized that illusory safety concerns can be used 'to mask unconstitutional purposes.'"
"Forcing students to provide urine samples violates their constitutional rights," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-EM. "To make matters worse, students had to pay the college $50 each for the tests that violated their privacy."