A federal judge in New Jersey ruled last week that mandatory drug testing of government employees in the absence of individualized suspicion violated their constitutional rights. This important and welcome decision underscores the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. As the country moves pell-mell toward universal urine testing for drugs, it is crucial to remember that our society still believes in privacy, individual rights and the doctrine that all people are assumed to be innocent.
The facts of the New Jersey case are these: Earlier this year the city of Plainfield required 225 policemen and firemen (including some civilian employees) to take surprise urine tests for drugs. Twenty people failed. They were given the choice of resigning or facing departmental charges. Seventeen sued. On Thursday, District Judge H. Lee Sarokin in Newark ruled in their favor. His eloquent opinion explains it best:
"The threat posed by widespread use of drugs is real, the need to combat it manifest. But it is important not to permit fear and panic to overcome our fundamental principles and protections. The public interest in eliminating drugs in the workplace is substantial, but to invade the privacy of the innocent in order to discover the guilty establishes a dangerous precedent, one which our Constitution mandates be rejected."