A federal judge on Friday barred Linn State Technical College from requiring all students to undergo drug testing, finding that the rule violated the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.
In the two years since Linn State imposed the testing requirement, the college has been in court over the issue, trying to fend off injunctions. Friday's ruling provided a permanent injunction against the drug testing (with a few narrow exceptions for students in certain programs).
In her 62-page ruling, Judge Nanette K. Laughry repeatedly referred to the drug testing as the equivalent of a "suspicionless search," and noted that the government needs a compelling reason to engage in such a search. Based on other court decisions, including a federal appeals court ruling on an earlier request for an injunction, Judge Laughry distinguished between drug testing for "safety selective training programs," where the use of large or dangerous equipment by someone on drugs could pose a threat to others, and requiring drug tests of everyone.
The college argued that its policy was needed to promote student safety. But the ruling found little evidence of a danger to justify the privacy invasion of forcing students to take a drug test.
Further, the ruling suggests that the real motivation for the policy had nothing to do with concerns about student safety. The decision reviews various goals set by the college related to the drug testing policy, and also the minutes of the meetings where college board members discussed the idea -- and the judge was critical in her analysis.
"The risk of using illusory safety concerns to mask unconstitutional purposes is apparent in this case, as the evidence shows that the adoption of Linn State’s drug-testing policy was motivated predominantly by considerations other than the safety interest ultimately relied upon by defendants in response to this litigation. The six 'program goals' adopted by the Board of Regents do not even mention preventing accidents or injuries caused or contributed to by drug use, and instead focus on goals like improving retention and graduation rates," the judge wrote
Referring to the meeting minutes, the judge wrote that President Donald Claycomb said "that parents want their kids to attend a school that enforces a drug free environment,” and that, “[t]his alone could up the enrollment numbers.” The judge added that "there is no indication in these minutes that any concern for reducing or preventing drug-related accidents was also discussed."
In her ruling, Judge Laughrey ordered the college not to test any students outside of a small number of programs (such as aviation maintenance) where there are valid safety issues, and said that the college must destroy urine specimens collected previously, and refund the $50 fee collected from students who were subject to the testing. (The Eastern Missouri division of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the college on behalf of students forced to take drug tests, estimates that 450 students had to give urine tests -- and pay for them -- before the first temporary injunction was in place.)
Claycomb, the college president, did not respond to e-mail seeking comment. But he told local reporters that while he had not yet read the decision, the college planned to appeal. The college has created a legal defense fund to pay for appeals. In announcing  the creation of the fund, Claycomb said that "the drug screening was implemented in the spirit of what is best for our students. It is based on our mission and the environment students are in from the standpoint of safety and preparation for employment."
Jeffrey Mittman, executive director for the ACLU in Eastern Missouri, praised the ruling. In a statement,  he said: "Like most Americans, Missourians are tired of the War on Drugs and policies that assume that everyone is guilty of illegal drug use."