WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court let stand Monday a random drug testing requirement for Boston police officers, signaling again that the justices will permit government agencies broad discretion in testing employees involved in public safety.
In March, the high court voted 5 to 4 to uphold a mandatory, one-time testing requirement for U.S. Customs Service employees seeking a promotion. The Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures" by government officials, but the court said it was reasonable for officials to assure that customs agents carrying guns and seizing drugs are not themselves drug users.
The U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals said the same logic applies to police officers. "We can find no relevant distinction between a customs officer and a police officer," the Boston-based court said in a terse opinion upholding the testing requirement.
However, the appeals court in its two-page ruling said nothing about the difference between random testing, as required for Boston police officers, and the one-time test used by the Customs Service.
In appealing to the high court, lawyers for the police association said "continuous and random" testing violates an employee's right to privacy. In response, police officials said the testing program is an effective deterrent largely because it is random and continuing.
Without comment, the justices simply denied the police association's appeal. (Guiney vs. Roache, 89-205.)
The Supreme Court has yet to rule directly on a random testing case, and Monday's action does not necessarily mean that the justices would approve such a program. Typically, the high court seeks to review a legal issue after it has been clearly and thoughtfully considered in the lower courts, and the brief opinion from the 1st Circuit offered little in the way of analysis.
Several federal agencies have initiated random drug testing programs for their employees, and the high court may be waiting to hear the challenge to one of those programs.
Meanwhile, the court also let stand a ruling declaring that an unwed father may lose custody of his daughter because he failed to support the mother during her pregnancy.
Three days after a 24-year-old mother gave birth to a baby, she gave up the child for adoption. But the unwed father quickly sought custody.
The two later married, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected their bid to regain custody of the child. The court reasoned that the mother had voluntarily given up the child, whereas the father's failure to support her during the pregnancy stripped him of his right to custody. (Roe vs. Doe, 89-362.)