TALLAHASSEE -- Arguing that Florida has an “overriding interest in a drug-free workforce,’’ Gov. Rick Scott has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a drug-testing policy for tens of thousands of state employees.
Lawyers for Scott filed a petition Monday asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled against across-the-board drug testing.
In the petition, the Scott administration pointed to the use of drug testing by private employers and said illegal drug use “increases financial costs, creates safety hazards, and impairs productivity.”
“The constitutionality of Florida’s drug testing policy is not only unsettled ---it is an important issue the court should decide now,’’ said the petition seeking Supreme Court review. “The Eleventh Circuit has intruded upon Florida’s sovereign right to ensure the general welfare of its citizens and regulate its workforce.”
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which challenged the constitutionality of the policy, blasted the Scott administration for continuing to pursue the drug tests. They pointed to repeated past rulings against such drug testing.
“We are prepared to demonstrate to the U.S. Supreme Court, as it has found before, that the state has no authority to require people to submit their bodily fluids for government inspection and approval without reason or suspicion,” ACLU of Florida attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made a high-profile issue of requiring drug tests for state employees and welfare recipients. But federal courts have ruled against him on both issues, as opponents have argued that government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
A federal district judge in 2012 ruled that the state-worker drug testing was unconstitutional and blocked the Scott administration from carrying out the policy. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year was more nuanced, saying that drug tests could be justified for some employees whose duties raise safety concerns.
But the appeals court also indicated that drug tests could not be justified constitutionally for many of the 85,000 workers who could be subject to Scott’s policy. The appeals court sent the case back to a lower court, with directions to sort through job categories to determine which workers could be tested.
In recent months, the state and opponents “have been engaged in the arduous process of dividing state employees into job categories so that they can later, absent this court’s intervention, litigate over each job category,’’ the administration said in the petition to the Supreme Court.
It remains unclear whether justices will even decide to hear the case. But in the petition, Scott’s lawyers argued that Florida’s “important interests outweigh public employees’ limited expectation of privacy in this setting.”
“Requiring government employees and job applicants to consent to drug testing is not an unconstitutional condition because there is a rational connection between the requirement and the important state interest in a drug-free workplace,’’ the petition said.
But Jeanette Wynn, president of AFSCME Council 79, which represents state workers, said Scott “appears to want to continue the attack on hard working men and women of this state.”
“Once again, Governor Scott is wasting taxpayer dollars on an issue that has already been decided and goes against common sense,’’ she said in a prepared statement.