Ninth Circuit Rejects Blanket Drug Testing Of Public Employees

San Francisco, CA: Government job applicants may not be randomly drug tested absent evidence that their on-the-job impairment would pose a legitimate safety risk to others, according to a unanimous ruling last week by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling struck down an Oregon city’s policy mandating all public job applicants undergo suspicionless urine testing for the presence of certain illicit drug metabolites.

The Court decided that the city of Woodford’s desire to maintain a ‘drug-free workplace’ was not sufficient enough to override an individual’s Constitutional protections to be free from unreasonable searches. The Ninth Circuit based its decision on a 1997 US Supreme Court ruling, Chandler v. Miller. In that case, the Court rejected a Georgia law that sought to require random drug testing for all political candidates, determining that the statute was unconstitutional because it “diminishes personal privacy for a symbol’s sake.”

Similarly, the Ninth Circuit determined: “[The City’s] policy is unconstitutional as applied because [it] failed to demonstrate a special need to screen a prospective [employee] for drugs. … [The City] posits that it has a substantial and important interest in screening [public employees] for three reasons: drug abuse is one of the most serious problems confronting society today, drug use has an adverse impact on job performance, and children must be protected from those who use drugs or could influence children to use them. No doubt these problems are worthy of concern, but there is scant, if any, indication that on account of them, the City has ‘special needs’ of sufficient weight to justify an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of individualized suspicion.”

The case is Lanier v. City of Woodburn.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the opinion is available online at: