Supreme Court Approves Extraordinary Expansion Of Suspicionless Student Drug Testing

Students To Be Taught The Constitution, But Are No Longer Protected By It, NORML Charges

Washington, DC:  The Supreme Court approved 5 to 4 an Oklahoma school district’s policy mandating drug testing for all students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities, including the chess club, the Honor Society and the marching band.  (Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 [OK], et al v. Lindsay Earls et al, No. 01-332The decision overturned a 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that previously found the Tecumseh, OK policy to be unreasonable because the school district failed to show there was a specific student drug problem for which drug testing was a solution.

NORML Foundation Legal Director Donna Shea criticized the Court’s decision, noting that the primary goal of schools should be educating students, not policing them.  “By further reducing public school students’ constitutional rights, the Court is sending a message that contradicts that taught by civics teachers – that this country was founded on personal freedom,” Shea said.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the drug testing policy was “reasonable,” even in the absence of individualized suspicion or an identifiable school-wide drug problem.  “This Court has not required a particularized or pervasive drug problem before allowing the government to conduct suspicionless drug testing,” Thomas opined.  “Indeed, the nationwide drug epidemic makes the war against drugs a pressing concern in every school.”

Since adopting the policy in 1998, only three Tecumseh students – all athletes – had tested positive for drugs.  The Supreme Court had previously approved drug testing student athletes in 1995.

In a separate concurring opinion, Judge Stephen Breyer questioned whether the Tecumseh policy “will work” in deterring student drug use, but opined that “the Constitution does not prohibit the effort.”

Shea called the Oklahoma policy strategically misguided.  “Under this new standard, those who are tested are those students least likely to be involved in any kind of illicit activity,” Shea said.  “And because marijuana is detectable by urinalysis far longer than other popular substances such as alcohol and cocaine, students who prefer to use marijuana and who want to participate in extracurricular activities may now actually choose to use more dangerous drugs.”

This is the fourth ruling by the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of drug testing since 1989.  The Court has upheld the practice for government employees and struck down the procedure for political candidates.

For more information, please contact NORML Foundation Legal Director Donna Shea at (202) 483-8751.  To read The NORML Foundation’s ‘friend of the court’ brief on behalf of student Lindsay Earls, please visit: http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=4941 .