WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Army to stop random checks of 9,400 civilian employees for drug use because the tests are an unreasonable search prohibited by the Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan found that the Army had failed to show that random urine testing was needed to ensure safety and security and that such tests were therefore an "excessively intrusive" search prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.
Hogan said random checks could not be justified by safety concerns because the test used by the Army did not indicate whether an employee was using drugs on the job.
In addition, he said that "the government's non-safety interests in maintaining a drug-free civilian work force are not sufficiently compelling to justify the substantial intrusion of mandatory, random urinalysis."
"Illegal drugs are an enormous and dangerous problem," he said. "It is with some regret that the court removes what might be a powerful weapon from the nation's arsenal in the campaign against illegal drug use, but the values represented by the Constitution and Fourth Amendment are transcendent."
After noting that another federal judge here last year had upheld random drug testing of nearly 30,000 Transportation Department employees, Hogan invited the Justice Department to appeal his decision.
He suggested also that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here consolidate the two cases for a single review of "a question of exceptional importance."
"We are reviewing the opinion and are considering an appeal," a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
The ruling was made on three challenges brought by public employees' unions to the Army's 1986 order directing random drug tests of civilians in sensitive jobs. The cases involve unions representing 2,200 civilians at Ft. Stewart, Ga., 355 employees at the Sharp Army Depot in Lathrop, Calif., and 190 civilian guards at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
But the order applies to all drug testing of civilian Army employees. Of the Army's nearly 450,000 civilian employees, 9,400 are subject to random drug testing, including 2,800 pilots and others in aviation-related jobs and 3,700 police officers and guards.
The Pentagon's anti-drug initiative "is not rooted in the discovery of any particular drug problem among its civilian employees or any group of employees," Hogan wrote, noting that a 1983 survey showed that only 4% of 7,000 civilian Defense Department employees reported using drugs.
"Even the anecdotal evidence of on-duty abuse by civilian employees is spare and unconvincing," the judge said.