WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court on Friday declared a random drug testing program for government workers at 28 U.S. Forest Service Job Corps centers unconstitutional.
The centers are home for at-risk youths from ages 16 to 24 from troubled environments. Residents are housed in remote rural locations and trained in various vocations.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the small number of drug use incidents among a workforce of several thousand over many years does not establish a serious problem, much less an immediate crisis necessitating expansion of a random drug testing policy.
The government "has thus offered a solution in search of a problem," Judge Judith Rogers ruled.
Absent from the record, Rogers said, is any demonstration that government staffers using drugs influenced youths at the center to use them, in violation of the centers' Zero Tolerance Policy. She was joined by Judge Douglas Ginsburg.
Previously, the only center workers undergoing random drug testing were nurses and employees required to hold a commercial driver's license.
Drug testing of federal employees is subject to the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches. The government unsuccessfully invoked an exception for special needs.
Rogers said that the government's decision to randomly test all Forest Service Job Corps Center employees for drugs does not fit within the narrow category of constitutionally permissible searches that can be conducted when no drug use is suspected.
In dissent, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said that in residential schools for at-risk youth, many of whom have previously used drugs, it seems eminently sensible to implement a narrowly targeted drug testing program for the schools' employees.
"In these limited circumstances, it is reasonable to test; indeed, it would seem negligent not to test," Kavanaugh wrote.
"To maintain discipline, the schools must ensure that the employees who work there do not themselves become part of the problem," said Kavanaugh. "That is especially true when, as here, the employees are one of the few possible conduits for drugs to enter the schools."