It’s the Constitution, stupid!
I’ve already straightened out the world on the subject of the Second Amendment (which the NRA erroneously but ardently insists is an automatic, unlimited license to carry the approved weapon of their choice). Now it’s time to review Article 4 of the Bill of Rights, also known as the 4th amendment. (The one that theoretically means the cops can’t snatch you off the street and make you disappear – unless, of course, they called you an enemy combatant first.) Why? Because of the number of people who think it’s okay for the government to mandate drug tests for poor people.
Mrs. Higgins is in the teacher’s lounge in tears at the moment. It wasn’t bad enough that the Republicans have been busy trying to shred the Constitution into confetti to celebrate shredding the Constitution, no, they decided that searches are okay if the person being searched is poor. And way too many people agree. This has pushed Mrs. Higgins over the emotional edge. While she is out composing herself, let’s review:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
It does not mean: “except for poor people or people we don’t like.”
It does mean that if you’re the government and you’re going to search somebody you better have a reason that’s pretty important. Like, oh, I don’t know, maybe because you have a reasonable basis to think this person committed a crime. Or, as the U.S. Supreme Court describes it: “To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.”
Thankfully, being poor is not yet a crime.
Which is why, when the government decides to impose a blood test or urine test on applicants for public assistance, courts tend to take a dim view of it. Because – and some of you who are not poor people may not like this – it violates the protections contained in the fourth amendment.
The non-poor people may ask, “But what about the hordes of poor people who are spending our money on illegal substances?” Because after all, everybody who isn’t poor knows that poor people are poor because they spend all their money on Colt 45, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and crack. And that we need to weed out the 99.9% of poor people who don’t really need our money because they’ll just give it to the first drug pushing gang banger they see. It’s much better to giver our money to deserving rich white people instead. Just ask Rick Scott.
You know him, the rich white Florida governor who looks a lot like Mr. Clean would look if he was thinner and a crazed serial killer.
Or that weird albino monk in “The Da Vinci Code.”
Rick Scott decided he was going to test poor people for drugs – at their expense (costing between $24 and $45) – to qualify for government assistance. Yeah – they’d get reimbursed – if they passed, but first they had to find the bucks to pay for the test. Mind you, we’re talking about people so hard up they are seeking public assistance.
Lots of people apparently think this is a good idea, because otherwise all those poor people would just put our tax dollars in a crack pipe and smoke them. And we all know how much crack that $200 each month would buy.
The test requirement didn’t sit well with Luis Lebron, a U.S. Navy veteran and single father who attends college full-time, cares for his disabled mother, and, after his veterans’ benefits ran out, qualified for welfare. All he had to do was pass a drug test. “Luis knew he’d test negative because he doesn’t use illegal drugs, but that wasn’t the point: he also knew that he shouldn’t have to submit to an invasive search to prove it.”
A federal judge, being a person who had actually read the Constitution, agreed, deciding that “because Rick Scott wanted to” was not one of the “exceptional circumstances” in the “closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches.”
Rick Scott may have “wanted to” because the company he started – and in which he held a $62 million stake until he put it in his wife’s name in 2005 – could get a contract for the drug testing.
Drug Test? $45. Violating the basic rights of thousands and thousands of people at their expense? And getting paid to do it? Priceless.