Tuesday, March 12, 2002

school drug testing comes to the Supreme Court
Should a school be allowed to ask for a urine test from any student who wants to be involved in an extracurricular activity? The US Supreme Court has a couple of cases before it on the subject of drug testing that may shape how we deal with the subject of drug testing in schools, at work, and when running for a political office.

An involved, and reasoned argument against such drug testing makes its case based upon a rationality and proportionality basis:
Given the serious intrusion, judges must insist on a serious government interest that is significantly furthered before blessing the policy as reasonable. The school district's asserted interests of deterring illegal drug use are substantial. But there is no tight fit between that goal and the means chosen here.

Crucially, there is no reason to believe that students who want to be in the choir or the chess club are more likely to use drugs than all other students. (Indeed, one might think students who choose to forgo participating in any extracurricular activities at all might be more disaffected with school, and more likely to use drugs in their greater leisure time - though some of these students might instead need to work afterschool jobs or take care of siblings.)

That lack of fit between ends (deterrence of drug use) and means (testing only those engaged in extracurricular activities) decisively distinguishes the Earls case from the student athlete drug testing upheld in the Vernonia case. The Vernonia Court explicitly relied on the facts that athletes were the leaders of the local high school drug culture, that athletic participation itself created special health risks for those on drugs, and that the incremental intrusion of a drug test was small given the other privacy intrusions inherent in sports themselves. Athletes also face special temptations to take drugs such as steroids to boost their athletic performance. None of these factors applies to the school stamp club.
I think that the authors of this article make a strong argument. But, will the Supreme Court see it that way?

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