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On The Front Lines

The Rutherford Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold Appeals Court Decision Banning Random, Suspicionless Student Drug Testing

"Invasive drug testing assumes that all students are guilty until proven innocent."

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a "friend of the court" brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of several Tecumseh, Oklahoma students and their parents who object to their school district's Student Activities Drug Testing Policy. The policy permits mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of high school students participating in all extracurricular activities, including band, choir, color guard, Future Farmers of America, and the school's athletic and academic teams. Students refusing to take the drug tests are barred from their chosen activity. Institute attorneys argue in their brief that the drug testing policy violates the Fourth Amendment because the policy invades the privacy of students and parents without legitimate justification, rendering students guilty by default.

On Aug. 18, 1999, several Tecumseh students and their parents challenged the school district's drug testing policy by filing suit in federal court. The students and parents argued that the Fourth Amendment right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures applied to all students participating in non-athletic activities. Further, they argued that there was no serious drug abuse problem among these students to justify such searches. The school argued that students involved in non-athletic activities were at risk for physical harm from drug abuse. However, one school official stated in her deposition that random searches were a way of "avoiding drug related incidents that might be 'embarrassing' to the school as a whole." The court ruled in favor of the school district, holding the searches were not unreasonable given the school's concerns about the problem of drug abuse among students.

On March 21, 2001, a federal appeals court reversed that decision, saying the school had failed to demonstrate "some identifiable drug abuse problem" among the students being searched. "Without any limitation, schools could test all of their students simply as a condition of attending school," the court majority held. Practically inviting the U.S. Supreme Court to take on the issue, the majority added, "We doubt very much that the Supreme Court would permit such broad testing were the issue presented to it." But in a heartfelt dissent, one appeals court judge advocated the searches by raising the larger issue of teen drug use. "It is difficult to imagine an interest more compelling than stemming the tide of illegal drug use by young women and men before they subject themselves, and our society, to substantial risk and heartache," the judge stated.

"While all of us recognize that teen drug use is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, we must also be serious about respecting the rights and freedoms of our young people if we are to teach them respect for themselves and the law," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Invasive drug testing assumes that all students are guilty until proven innocent. The Constitution prevents government officials, including school boards, from arbitrary and unreasonable invasions of privacy like this one."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.


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Nisha N. Mohammed
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Email: Nisha N. Mohammed

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