A complex ruling in federal appellate court over Gov. Rick Scott's employee drug testing program left both sides claiming victory as the case heads back to district court. But the real lesson from Wednesday's ruling is that governing well requires measured action, not extremes. It's in the taxpayers' interest for the governor to accept the limits placed on his power by the U.S. Constitution and abandon his indefensible quest to subject all state employees to random drug tests.
It's the second time in a year that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has signaled that Scott's zeal for drug testing likely defies constitutional rights to privacy. Earlier this year, the appellate court upheld a district judge's injunction against a law requiring welfare recipients to submit to drug testing, saying the state had failed to show "substantial public need" for the mandated testing.
On Wednesday, the court said Scott's 2011 executive order establishing a random drug-testing scheme for 85,000 state employees also likely amounted to an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment because he failed to produce convincing evidence of the need for such a program. As Judge Stanley Marcus asked in court, "Is there any compelling need to drug test a file clerk?"
But the appellate court also ruled U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro in Miami had gone too far when she barred Scott from drug testing any employee under the program and should have, instead, ruled on a job-by-job basis. The courts have long held that workers in certain jobs — such as those that involve heavy machinery or protecting public safety — can be subjected to random drug testing without any suspicion of wrongdoing.
Scott appeared unwilling, however, to cede any ground: "We will go forward in arguing this case in both the appellate and trial courts in order to ensure that taxpayer funds are safeguarded from misuse by ensuring our state workforce is drug-free."
But twice now, the appellate court could not have been more clear. Just collecting a government paycheck doesn't mean privacy is forfeited. The best way for Scott to safeguard taxpayer funds from misuse is to stop using them to defend the indefensible.