Supreme Court Okays Random Drug Testing in Schools

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(1st Add: Includes additional background on the case, as well as comments by the Family Research Council and Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.).)

( - The Supreme Court Thursday ruled that public high school students who participate in extracurricular activities and sports may be subjected to random drug tests, because the schools' interest in combating drug use outweighs an individual's right to privacy.

The 5-4 decision comes in a case involving a former Oklahoma high school honor student who competed on an academic team and was a choir member. Lindsay Earls, a self-described "goodie-two shoes," tested negative for drugs, but sued saying the tests violated the Constitution's guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The American Civil Liberties Union, who represented Earls, argued that the school board could not prove that drugs were a big problem at the school.

The Pottawatomie County school system had considered testing all students, but settled instead on testing those participating in extracurricular activities, because they voluntarily represent the school and therefore had a lower expectation of privacy than students at large. Random drug tests for student athletes had previously been allowed.

"We find that testing students who participate in extracurricular activities is a reasonably effective means of addressing the school district's legitimate concerns in preventing, deterring and detecting drug use," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority.

Also ruling with Thomas were Chief Justice William H. Renquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

The court did not rule in favor of random drug testing for all students, regardless of participation in after-school activities.

The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, said: "The particular testing program upheld today is not reasonable, it is capricious, even perverse."

In a 1995 case, the court allowed random urine tests for student athletes.

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter said they disagreed with the 1995 ruling and Thursday's ruling.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which filed a brief arguing against random drug testing, was not not happy with today's ruling.

"The schools should be educating students, not policing them," said Donna Shea, NORML's legal director. She said schools should be looking for ways to get students into extra-curricular activities, not looking for ways to keep them out.

Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.), a member of the Speaker's Task Force for a Drug Free America, applauded the court ruling.

"With this landmark decision, the Supreme Court has given schools the green light to use what may be the most effective tool for making our schools drug free - random drug testing," he said.

Peterson attended oral arguments before the Supreme Court in March where he and a coalition of family groups, school districts and the Justice Department filed "friend of the court" briefs on behalf of Tecumseh High School in Oklahoma.

"This is not just a victory for an Oklahoma school district," he said. "This is a victory for families and communities all across America. Today, drug dealers lost one of the most dangerous weapons in their arsenal - the ability to persuade kids that there are no consequences for trying drugs.

"The probability of getting caught is reason enough for many good kids to say no to drugs," Peterson added.

"Until today, the ACLU has been able to hold out the threat of a lawsuit and scare school boards out of implementing drug testing policies," he said. "With the Supreme Court decision, and with funding now available to schools for drug testing, school boards across he country can begin to make our schools safer for every child."

The Family Research Council welcomed the ruling, saying the court "has opened the door for school administrators to better create safe learning environments for their students."

"The goal of student drug testing is not to punish students - it is to prevent drug use, which in turn will protect the students' health as well as ensure a more orderly classroom experience," said FRC Vice President for Policy Robert Maginnis.

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