Shaky Legal Ground for Drug Testing on Welfare Applicants

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The final day of the legislature is tomorrow and several bills hang in the balance. One the most controversial is a bill that would require drug tests for welfare applicants.

Supporters argue it’s a common sense measure to protect taxpayer money from being wasted on drug use.

But several legal experts say the legislation would be highly susceptible to a legal challenge.

Emory law professor Robert Schapiro says blanket drug testing violates the 4th amendment, which guards against unreasonable government searches. 

“The government can’t search you unless it has some reason to do that and therefore I think it would be difficult for Georgia to apply this law without some showing of suspicion.” 

Last year, Florida passed similar legislation, but the ACLU sued and in turn, a federal judge halted the drug tests, saying the state lacked probable cause. In 1999, Michigan passed a drug requirement, but it was subsequently struck down for the same reason.

University of Georgia law professor Sonja West says bill proponents would fare better if the legislation applied only to suspicious individuals.

“If they could show that we actually have reason to believe this particular person is more likely to be engaged in unlawful activity, then they would be on stronger ground.” 

Debbie Seagraves, who heads the Georgia chapter of the ACLU, didn’t mince her words . She says as written, the bill is unconstitutional and would be challenged in court.


“A Nation of Suspects: Drug Testing and the Fourth Amendment,” American Journal of Public Health, October, 1989 (via PubMed)