Is Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients An Unconstitutional Violation Of Privacy?


During today’s hearing over HB1385 to require drug testing for welfare recipients, the state’s welfare bureaucrats claimed that requiring such testing might be an unconstitutional violation of the 4th amendment:

States enacting such legislation have been “susceptible to constitutional challenges,” said Carol Cartledge, public assistance director for the state Department of Human Services.

“Drug testing as a condition of receipt of economic assistance is generally considered a search under the Fourth Amendment,” said Cartledge, who urged lawmakers to delay any action on the bill “until the current Fourth Amendment challenges are resolved.”

I’m tempted to argue that this is just something welfare bureaucrats are saying to protect their jobs, since drug testing might result in fewer welfare recipients and less need for social workers, but maybe it’s worth exploring this issue.

In thinking of this issue, my mind turns to the issues with the TSA frisking and scanning air travelers before they board airplanes. That sort of search has been upheld by the courts as a reasonable search under the 4th amendment, so why wouldn’t drug testing for welfare recipients?

The case for drug testing welfare recipients is actually even stronger. I’m not sure that frisking/scanning every single airline traveler really is a reasonable search under the 4th amendment, seeing as how the government is interjecting mandatory searches between private air travelers using private airlines, but certainly a drug test as a barrier to public welfare benefits can be considered reasonable?

I want to make it clear that I’m not endorsing what the TSA does. I don’t think the crotch-groping and nudie-scans are a “reasonable search” under the 4th amendment. But how is drug testing for welfare recipients unreasonable?

It would be strange, indeed, for searches of air travelers asking nothing of the government to be legal under the 4th amendment, but not drug testing for those who want benefits from the taxpayers.

Here’s my interview with bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Johnson: