Chandler v. Miller

520 U.S. 305

Case Year: 1997

Case Ruling: 8-1, Reversed

Opinion Justice: Ginsburg

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Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Breyer, Kennedy, O'Connor, Scalia, Souter, Stevens, Thomas


1st Concurring Opinion



1st Dissenting Opinion

Author: Rehnquist


2nd Concurring Opinion



2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion



3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


Many public and private employers have initiated drug screening or testing programs for job applicants or employees, and some schools have started them for students. Under a large number of these programs, individuals must have their urine tested even if the examiner has no reason to suspect illegal drug use.

Those who support drug testing assert that the nation has a legitimate concern regarding drug abuse and the social problems that flow from illegal drug operations. They argue that testing is an effective method of identifying individuals who have consumed illegal substances, and that a urinalysis is a minor intrusion into an individual's privacy rights and a minor incursion into the body. Opponents respond that, under Katz v. United States, employers may be intruding upon their employees' reasonable expectations of privacy. They assert that employers order tests without reason to believe that any specific employee has committed a crime. Beginning in 1989, the Court began to sort through these competing claims. It upheld the programs at issue in Treasury Employees v. Von Raab (1989) (drug tests for United States Customs Service employees who seek transfer or promotion to certain positions), Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn. (1989) (drug and alcohol tests for railway employees involved in train accidents and for those who violate particular safety rules), and Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton (1995) (random drug testing of students who participate in interscholastic sports). In each of these cases, the justices took the position that government interests outweigh individuals' expectations of privacy. However, in 1997 the Court held in Chandler v. Miller that a Georgia law that required drug screening of all candidates for public office went too far--it "diminishe[d] personal privacy for a symbol's sake."



The Fourth Amendment requires government to respect "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons ... against unreasonable searches and seizures." This restraint on government conduct generally bars officials from undertaking a search or seizure absent individualized suspicion. Searches conducted without grounds for suspicion of particular individuals have been upheld, however, in "certain limited circumstances." See Treasury Employees v. Von Raab (1989). These circumstances include brief stops for questioning or observation at a fixed Border Patrol checkpoint... or at a sobriety checkpoint,... and administrative inspections in "closely regulated" businesses....

Georgia requires candidates for designated state offices to certify that they have taken a drug test and that the test result was negative. Ga. Code Ann. 21-2-140 (1993) (hereinafter 21-2-140). We confront in this case the question whether that requirement ranks among the limited circumstances in which suspicionless searches are warranted. Relying on this Court's precedents sustaining drug-testing programs for student athletes, customs employees, and railway employees,... the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit judged Georgia's law constitutional. We reverse that judgment. Georgia's requirement that candidates for state office pass a drug test, we hold, does not fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches.

The prescription at issue, approved by the Georgia Legislature in 1990, orders that "each candidate seeking to qualify for nomination or election to a state office shall as a condition of such qualification be required to certify that such candidate has tested negative for illegal drugs." 21-2-140(b). Georgia was the first, and apparently remains the only, State to condition candidacy for state office on a drug test....

We begin our discussion of this case with an uncontested point: Georgia's drug-testing requirement, imposed by law and enforced by state officials, effects a search within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.... As explained in Skinner, government-ordered "collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable." Because "these intrusions [are] searches under the Fourth Amendment," we focus on the question: Are the searches reasonable?

To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.... But particularized exceptions to the main rule are sometimes warranted based on "special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement."... When such "special needs"--concerns other than crime detection--are alleged in justification of a Fourth Amendment intrusion, courts must undertake a context-specific inquiry, examining closely the competing private and public interests advanced by the parties....

"In limited circumstances, where the privacy interests implicated by the search are minimal, and where an important governmental interest furthered by the intrusion would be placed in jeopardy by a requirement of individualized suspicion, a search may be reasonable despite the absence of such suspicion."

In evaluating Georgia's ballot-access, drug-testing statute--a measure plainly not tied to individualized suspicion--the Eleventh Circuit sought to "'balance the individual's privacy expectations against the [State's] interests,'"... in line with our precedents most immediately in point: Skinner, Von Raab, and Vernonia....

Respondents urge that the precedents just examined are not the sole guides for assessing the constitutional validity of the Georgia statute. The "special needs" analysis, they contend, must be viewed through a different lens because 21-2-140 implicates Georgia's sovereign power, reserved to it under the Tenth Amendment, to establish qualifications for those who seek state office.... We are aware of no precedent suggesting that a State's power to establish qualifications for state offices--any more than its sovereign power to prosecute crime--diminishes the constraints on state action imposed by the Fourth Amendment. We therefore reject respondents' invitation to apply in this case a framework extraordinarily deferential to state measures setting conditions of candidacy for state office. Our guides remain Skinner, Von Raab, andVernonia. Turning to those guides, we note, first, that the testing method the Georgia statute describes is relatively noninvasive; therefore, if the "special need" showing had been made, the State could not be faulted for excessive intrusion. Georgia's statute invokes the drug-testing guidelines applicable to the federal programs upheld in Skinner andVon Raab.... The State permits a candidate to provide the urine specimen in the office of his or her private physician; and the results of the test are given first to the candidate, who controls further dissemination of the report. Because the State has effectively limited the invasiveness of the testing procedure, we concentrate on the core issue: Is the certification requirement warranted by a special need?

Our precedents establish that the proffered special need for drug testing must be substantial--important enough to override the individual's acknowledged privacy interest, sufficiently vital to suppress the Fourth Amendment's normal requirement of individualized suspicion.... Georgia has failed to show, in justification of 21-2-140, a special need of that kind.

Respondents' defense of the statute rests primarily on the incompatibility of unlawful drug use with holding high state office. The statute is justified, respondents contend, because the use of illegal drugs draws into question an official's judgment and integrity; jeopardizes the discharge of public functions, including antidrug law enforcement efforts; and undermines public confidence and trust in elected officials.... The statute, according to respondents, serves to deter unlawful drug users from becoming candidates and thus stops them from attaining high state office. Notably lacking in respondents' presentation is any indication of a concrete danger demanding departure from the Fourth Amendment's main rule.

Nothing in the record hints that the hazards respondents broadly describe are real and not simply hypothetical for Georgia's polity. The statute was not enacted, as counsel for respondents readily acknowledged at oral argument, in response to any fear or suspicion of drug use by state officials:

"QUESTION: Is there any indication anywhere in this record that Georgia has a particular problem here with State officeholders being drug abusers?

"[COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENTS]: No, there is no such evidence ... and to be frank, there is no such problem as we sit here today."...

... A demonstrated problem of drug abuse, while not in all cases necessary to the validity of a testing regime... would shore up an assertion of special need for a suspicionless general search program. Proof of unlawful drug use may help to clarify--and to substantiate--the precise hazards posed by such use. Thus, the evidence of drug and alcohol use by railway employees engaged in safety-sensitive tasks in Skinner, sand the immediate crisis prompted by a sharp rise in students' use of unlawful drugs in Vernonia, bolstered the government's and school officials' arguments that drug-testing programs were warranted and appropriate. In contrast to the effective testing regimes upheld in Skinner, Von Raab, and Vernonia, Georgia's certification requirement is not well designed to identify candidates who violate antidrug laws. Nor is the scheme a credible means to deter illicit drug users from seeking election to state office. The test date--to be scheduled by the candidate anytime within 30 days prior to qualifying for a place on the ballot--is no secret. As counsel for respondents acknowledged at oral argument, users of illegal drugs, save for those prohibitively addicted, could abstain for a pretest period sufficient to avoid detection.... Moreover, respondents have offered no reason why ordinary law enforcement methods would not suffice to apprehend such addicted individuals, should they appear in the limelight of a public stage. Section 21-2-140, in short, is not needed and cannot work to ferret out lawbreakers, and respondents barely attempt to support the statute on that ground.... Respondents and the United States as amicus curiae rely most heavily on our decision in Von Raab, which sustained a drug-testing program for Customs Service officers prior to promotion or transfer to certain high-risk positions, despite the absence of any documented drug abuse problem among Service employees.... The posts in question in Von Raabdirectly involved drug interdiction or otherwise required the Service member to carry a firearm....

Hardly a decision opening broad vistas for suspicionless searches, Von Raabmust be read in its unique context. As the Customs Service reported in announcing the testing program, "[Customs employees], more than any other Federal workers, are routinely exposed to the vast network of organized crime that is inextricably tied to illegal drug use."... We stressed that "[d]rug interdiction ha[d] become the agency's primary enforcement mission,"... and that the employees in question would have "access to vast sources of valuable contraband."... Furthermore, Customs officers "ha[d] been the targets of bribery by drug smugglers on numerous occasions," and several had succumbed to the temptation....

Respondents overlook a telling difference between Von Raaband Georgia's candidate drug-testing program. In Von Raab it was "not feasible to subject employees [required to carry firearms or concerned with interdiction of controlled substances] and their work product to the kind of day-to-day scrutiny that is the norm in more traditional office environments."... Candidates for public office, in contrast, are subject to relentless scrutiny--by their peers, the public, and the press. Their day-to-day conduct attracts attention notably beyond the norm in ordinary work environments.

What is left, after close review of Georgia's scheme, is the image the State seeks to project. By requiring candidates for public office to submit to drug testing, Georgia displays its commitment to the struggle against drug abuse. The suspicionless tests, according to respondents, signify that candidates, if elected, will be fit to serve their constituents free from the influence of illegal drugs. But Georgia asserts no evidence of a drug problem among the State's elected officials, those officials typically do not perform high-risk, safety-sensitive tasks, and the required certification immediately aids no interdiction effort. The need revealed, in short, is symbolic, not "special," as that term draws meaning from our case law....

However well meant, the candidate drug test Georgia has devised diminishes personal privacy for a symbol's sake. The Fourth Amendment shields society against that state action....

We reiterate, too, that where the risk to public safety is substantial and real, blanket suspicionless searches calibrated to the risk may rank as "reasonable"--for example, searches now routine at airports and at entrances to courts and other official buildings.... But where, as in this case, public safety is not genuinely in jeopardy, the Fourth Amendment precludes the suspicionless search, no matter how conveniently arranged.

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is



I fear that the novelty of this Georgia law has led the Court to distort Fourth Amendment doctrine in order to strike it down. The Court notes, impliedly turning up its nose, that "Georgia was the first, and apparently remains the only, State to condition candidacy for state office on a drug test."... But if we are to heed the oft-quoted words of Justice Brandeis in his dissent in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann (1932)--"it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country"--novelty itself is not a vice. These novel experiments, of course, must comply with the United States Constitution; but their mere novelty should not be a strike against them.

Few would doubt that the use of illegal drugs and abuse of legal drugs is one of the major problems of our society.... It would take a bolder person than I to say that such widespread drug usage could never extend to candidates for public office such as Governor of Georgia. The Court says that "[n]othing in the record hints that the hazards respondents broadly describe are real and not simply hypothetical for Georgia's polity."... But surely the State need not wait for a drug addict, or one inclined to use drugs illegally, to run for or actually become Governor before it installs a prophylactic mechanism. We held as much in Von Raab:

"First, petitioners argue that the program is unjustified because it is not based on a belief that testing will reveal any drug use by covered employees. In pressing this argument, petitioners point out that the Service's testing scheme was not implemented in response to any perceived drug problem among Customs employees....

"Petitioners' first contention evinces an unduly narrow view of the context in which the Service's testing program was implemented. Petitioners do not dispute, nor can there be doubt, that drug abuse is one of the most serious problems confronting our society today. There is little reason to believe that American workplaces are immune from this pervasive social problem...."

The test under the Fourth Amendment, as these cases have held, is whether the search required by the Georgia statute is "reasonable." Today's opinion speaks of a "closely guarded" class of permissible suspicionless searches which must be justified by a "special need." But this term, as used in Skinner and Von Raab and on which the Court now relies, was used in a quite different sense than it is used by the Court today. In Skinner and Von Raab it was used to describe a basis for a search apart from the regular needs of law enforcement.... The "special needs" inquiry as delineated there has not required especially great "important[ce],"... unless one considers "the supervision of probationers," or the "operation of a government office,"... to be especially "important." Under our precedents, if there was a proper governmental purpose other than law enforcement, there was a "special need," and the Fourth Amendment then required the familiar balancing between that interest and the individual's privacy interest.

Under normal Fourth Amendment analysis, the individual's expectation of privacy is an important factor in the equation. But here, the Court perversely relies on the fact that a candidate for office gives up so much privacy--"[c]andidates for public office ... are subject to relentless scrutiny--by their peers, the public and the press," ante, at 15--as a reason for sustaining a Fourth Amendment claim. The Court says, in effect, that the kind of drug test for candidates required by the Georgia law is unnecessary, because the scrutiny to which they are already subjected by reason of their candidacy will enable people to detect any drug use on their part. But this is a strange holding, indeed. One might just as easily say that the railroad employees in Skinner, or the Customs officials in Von Raab, would be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny from their fellow employees and their supervisors. But the clear teaching of those cases is that the government is not required to settle for that sort of a vague and uncanalized scrutiny; if in fact preventing persons who use illegal drugs from concealing that fact from the public is a legitimate government interest, these cases indicate that the government may require a drug test.

The privacy concerns ordinarily implicated by urinalysis drug testing are "negligible,"... when the procedures used in collecting and analyzing the urine samples are set up "to reduce the intrusiveness" of the process. Under the Georgia law, the candidate may produce the test specimen at his own doctor's office, which must be one of the least intrusive types of urinalysis drug tests conceivable. But although the Court concedes this, it nonetheless manages to count this factor against the State, because with this kind of test the person tested will have advance notice of its being given, and will therefore be able to abstain from drug use during the necessary period of time. But one may be sure that if the test were random--and therefore apt to ensnare more users--the Court would then fault it for its intrusiveness....

In Von Raab, we described as "compelling" the government interest "in ensuring that many of these covered employees do not use drugs even off duty, for such use creates risks of bribery and blackmail against which the Government is entitled to guard."... The risks of bribery and blackmail for high-level officials of state government using illegal drugs would seem to be at least as significant as those for off-duty Customs officials....

Nothing in the Fourth Amendment or in any other part of the Constitution prevents a State from enacting a statute whose principal vice is that it may seem misguided or even silly to the members of this Court. I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.