Judge Blocks First-Ever Mandatory Drug Testing of Michigan Welfare Recipients

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
November 10, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, November 10, 1999

DETROIT, MI — A federal judge in Michigan today halted the state’s attempt to impose mandatory drug tests on all welfare recipients, confirming American Civil Liberties Union arguments that being poor is not an indication of being criminal.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, who this morning heard ACLU pleadings on behalf of a group of welfare recipients, said that requiring suspicionless drug tests as a condition for government benefits and subsidies is “likely unconstitutional.”

“The judge seemed especially concerned with the rights of ordinary citizens whose only offense here is that they are in need of government help,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “No one should have to choose between their constitutional rights and providing for their families.”

The ACLU of Michigan, together with the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project and local attorneys, filed a temporary restraining order on Monday on behalf of a group of welfare recipients. They argue that the program violates privacy rights and the Constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In her decision, Judge Roberts noted that the state had not shown any “special need” for drug testing especially after the state admitted that in the five weeks of the program’s operation, drug test results were positive in only eight percent of the cases, a percentage that is consistent with drug use in the general population. Of 268 people tested, only 21 tested positive for drugs, and all but three were for marijuana.

In October, Michigan’s Family Independence Agency instituted the nation’s first program requiring welfare applicants and recipients to take a urine test, regardless of whether they were suspected of using drugs. Refusal to submit to random drug testing or failure to comply with a “substance abuse treatment plan” would lead to denial of income support and other benefits under the FIA program for families with dependent children.

“Michigan stands alone in making its families guinea pigs in a social experiment,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project. “Now a federal judge has found that this dubious plan is likely to be unconstitutional.”

The court is scheduled to hear arguments on the preliminary injunction on December 14, 1999. The case is Marchwinski et al., v. Family Independence Agency, et al. Attorneys in the case are Kary Moss and Graham Boyd of the ACLU; Prof. Robert A. Sedler of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit and David R. Getto and Cameron R. Getto of Southfield, as cooperating attorneys.

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