KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a Missouri technical college's challenge of a ruling that its mandatory drug testing policy is unconstitutional when applied to all students.
The nation's highest court ended the six-year legal dispute by refusing without comment to intervene at the request of 1,200-student State Technical College of Missouri, the 56-year-old school formerly known as Linn State Technical College.
The college, based in Linn in central Missouri, has insisted that fostering a drug-free environment amounted to a "special need" justifying departure from the usual warrant and probable-cause requirements. The American Civil Liberties Union countered that such universal drug testing was unconstitutionally invasive.
Under a ruling last December by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that quashed the college's blanket drug-screening policy as a condition of enrollment, the school can test students enrolled in a handful of programs with public safety concerns. Those include heavy machinery and aviation maintenance.
"This case establishes — once and for all — that under the Fourth Amendment, every person has the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure, including college students," the ACLU, which filed the class-action lawsuit in 2011, said in a statement Monday.
Shawn Strong, the college's president, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that the school "will now look at modifying our policies to comply with the (8th Circuit's) ruling."
"Before embarking on this course the college realized it might be called upon to defend its efforts to protect Missouri's college students from the physical dangers and economic perils of illicit drug use," Strong said. "The courts have confirmed our right to drug test a number of our technical programs."
In its December ruling, the 8th Circuit concluded the college's drug-testing mandate wasn't sparked by a crisis and that the school "does not believe it has a student drug-use problem greater than that experienced by other colleges."
"Fostering a drug-free environment is surely a laudable goal," Judge Roger Wollman wrote for the court's majority, but "Linn State has not demonstrated that fostering a drug-free environment is a 'special need' as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court."
In a dissenting opinion, Judge C. Arlen Beam wrote that the college had a right to drug test all students, adding that the court erred "in rejecting Linn State's reasoned conclusion that its suspicionless drug testing and screening program ensures safety and deters harm to every student."