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Supreme Court drug test rulings.

Supreme Court drug test rulings

Drug testing, which is becoming an increasingly divisive issue in collective bargaining and legislative halls, drew two opinions from the Supreme Court that validated such efforts, in limited circumstances.

In Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association, the Court held that railroad operating crews can be tested for drug use after being involved in accidents. Writing for the seven-member majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the provisions of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting searches without probable cause did not apply in this case because of "special needs" in the safe transport of the public resulting from the fact that railroad employees "can cause great human loss before any sign of impairment becomes noticeable to supervisors or others."

In dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall, joined by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., conceded that eradication of illegal drug use was a proper national objective, but concluded that testing of railroad workers without any evidence of wrong-doing allows "basic constitutional rights to fall prey to momentary emergencies."

In the other case, National Treasury Employees Union v. Van Raab, Justice Kennedy, writing for the five-member majority, held that the U.S. Customs Service's Drug Enforcement Administration had the right to routinely test employees involved in interdicting illegal drugs and employees who carry firearms. Justice Kennedy said that testing of these employees is necessary to assure that they have the "unimpeachable integrity and judgment" required to counter illegal drug traffic, which is "one of the greatest problems affecting the health and welfare of our population." The Court did not extend the ruling to messengers and baggage clerks because of uncertainly over whether individual employees would gain access to restricted information.

Justice Antonin Scalia led the dissent, explaining that he joined the majority in the railroad case because of the compelling need to protect railroad passengers, but could not favor the decision in the Customs Service case because only 5 of 3,600 employees tested had positive results, leading to the conclusion that there was "no real evidence of a problem that will be solved by urine testing."

U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh described the two decisions as victories in the war on drugs, saying that the Administration would tailor drug-testing plans being established in Federal agencies to conform with the ruling. Federal employee unions, which have filed legal challenges to a number of the testing programs, contended that the Court's rulings had limited application and, pending further decisions, would not apply to "general" employees.
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Title Annotation:Developments in Industrial Relations
Author:Ruben, George
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1989
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