In a decisive 9-2 ruling on Thursday, the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals reinstated a 2013 decision that barred a technical college in Missouri from subjecting every single student to drug screenings.
The federal appeals court sided with the ACLU, who claimed the State Technical College of Missouri’s drug testing policy was unconstitutional, as soon as it was enforced on the entire student body. However, this isn’t the first time the school has been told their drug testing antics were against the law.
US District Judge Nanette Laughrey originally told the school, formerly called Linn State Technical College, that they were prohibited from targeting all of the college’s 1,200 students with mandatory drug testing. A panel of three judges later overturned Judge Laughrey’s decision, which is what prompted the ACLU to file an appeal at the federal level.
The ACLU of Missouri originally filed a class-action lawsuit against the college in 2011. Thursday’s ruling marks the latest chapter in this lengthy saga, one that activists in Missouri hope is the final one.
“We shouldn’t treat students seeking to better their lives through education with immediate suspicion,” ACLU of Missouri’s legal chief Tony Rothert said after the appeal was granted. Under the Fourth Amendment, “every person has the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure — including college students.”
The 32-page ruling does allow the college to continue mandatory drug testing for students enrolled in five certain degree programs that are safety-intensive in nature; aviation maintenance, electrical distribution systems, industrial electricity, power sports, and servicing of Caterpillar heavy equipment.
The school maintained throughout the legal process that their broad drug policy ensured a drug-free environment on campus. Normally, reasonable search and seizure requires probable cause, a warrant, or a “special need.” The college believed that maintaining a drug-free campus constituted a “special need,” but the court disagreed.
“Fostering a drug-free environment is surely a laudable goal,” Judge Roger Wollman stated on behalf of the majority, but added “Linn State has not demonstrated that fostering a drug-free environment is a ‘special need’ as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The State Technical College of Missouri has already updated their website with the newly adjusted drug testing policy.
Cover Image Courtesy of WUNC