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Court Upholds Drug Tests For Michigan Welfare Recipients

A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held unanimously that a Michigan law that would subject welfare recipients to random drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits is justified by the state’s interest in preventing drug-related child abuse and other crimes.

“This decision opens doors that I don’t think the full 6th Circuit would be comfortable with,” said Graham Boyd, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents welfare recipients. “Its reasoning could be applied to all parents, welfare or not.” An appeal to the full membership of the 6th Circuit is likely.

The 1996 federal welfare reform law authorized random drug testing by the states, but only Michigan adopted it, in 1999. Enforcement of the law was immediately blocked by a federal district judge who agreed with ACLU lawyers that it violated the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches. The recent Court of Appeals ruling overturned that judgment.In related news, a South Carolina case that ultimately made its way to the Supreme Court continues to makes headlines.

The Supreme Court ruled against the drug testing of pregnant women on Constitutional grounds. A lawsuit filed by 10 women who sued a hospital in 1993 is still pending. A federal appeals court recently ruled that most of the pregnant women who sued a South Carolina hospital for giving them drug tests and handing the results over to police never agreed to be tested. One was forced to spent three weeks in jail and another was taken to jail immediately after giving birth.

The South Carolina case raised fears that drug testing would lead to an increase in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. According to public health experts, the combination of drug testing and criminal sanctions would discourage pregnant women who use drugs from seeking prenatal care.

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