Gov. 12, Hr. 4
Dec. 17, 2012
Vernonia School District v. Acton (1995)
The Vernonia School District v. Acton case took place in 1995 at the Rehnquist Court at Vernonia High School in Oregon(1). This case was decided on Monday, June 26, 1995 (2).
In a town named Vernonia, Oregon, the local public schools faced a major problem regarding the drug use of students while participating in high school athletics (3). The Vernonia School Board were disturbed that drug use increases the risk of sports-related injury (4), so they approved an anti-drug policy, the Student Athlete Drug Policy, which requires random drug testing of the school’s student athletes (5). However, this became a conflict with the parents of a child named James Acton. The parents refused to sign a consent form to allow their kid to take the drug test because they felt it went against the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable” searches (6). The case was dismissed in the Federal District Court and was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the 9th District (7). This court favored the Acton families’ complaint, but random drug testing in public schools was ruled allowable in 1988 in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin (8). The case went on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to conclude conflicting court decisions (9).
Does random drug testing of high school athletes violate the reasonable search and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment (10)?
An example of a search subject to the demands of the 4th amendment is a state-compelled collection and testing of urine, including the requirements of the Student Athlete Drug Policy, which was determined by the Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association 1989 (11). By the case New Jersey v. T.L.O. 1985, the State’s power, in public schools, is tutelary and custodial over students. This allows a higher degree of supervision and control that other free adults are not able to do (12). Rules enforced upon the conduct of schoolchildren would be dismissed if undertaken by an adult (13). Fourth Amendment rights are different in public schools than any other place in America because students are required to take many physical examinations and to be vaccinated against various diseases (14). Having students perform these procedures, it creates less privacy for students than the general population (15). When student athletes sign up to participate in a sport-related activity, it’s expected that there will be less privacy because they must change amongst each other in a locker room and shower with no separation of any kind (16). Also, these student athletes put themselves in a situation where they are regulated more than any other students. These student athletes are required to have a preseason physical examination, insurance coverage with a signed insurance waiver, maintain a minimum grade point average, and agree to the rules of conduct for the particular sport/coach (17). Another point is the collection of urine is a process that is nearly identical to what people face when they enter a public bathroom. The males produce samples fully clothed, facing the urinal, and only observed from behind. The females produce samples in a closed stall with a female monitor outside the stall listening for tampering (18). The results of the drug tests are disclosed to selective school personnel who need to know in order for the student athletes to be protected from the effects of drug use (19). *
The Fourth Amendment applies to searches, including urinalysis according to New Jersey v. T.L.O. (20). Public school students don’t lose their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate which was determined by Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Public School District 1969 (21). Students are protected in school because of the Fourth Amendment and school officials must respect the Amendment (22). The school district’s procedures are much more invasive than the procedures in Skinner and Von Raab because the district makes it so the students have to produce urine on demand and under observation (23). While in comparison to Von Raab, people got a five days advance notice of the time and place for collecting the urine sample (24). Once the urine sample is collected, the privacy is still being invaded. In some cases, the most significant privacy interests might be contained in the urine (25). This can include various private medical facts about someone that isn’t related to the main point of the urinalysis. For example, one could find out if the person is an epileptic, pregnant, or diabetic (26). This is information that the school district has no right to know and is information that has no purpose in preventing drug-related injuries (27). Court’s Decision
In favor of the Vernonia School District, the court voted 6-3 on June 26, 1995 (28). Also, it was ruled that the Drug Testing Policy is constitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (29). This was decided because state-compelled collection and testing of urine constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment (30). *
The privacy interests in the process of collecting urine samples under the District’s Policy is not violated because the conditions in which the urine is collected is nearly identical to the normal procedures of a public restroom (31). Also, the tests look for standard drugs and not medical conditions and are released to a select group of people (32). Children that have been committed to the temporary custody of the State as a schoolmaster are the subjects of the District’s Policy. This means the State may have more control and supervision than they would over free adults (33). The policy upholds substantive due process of the Fourteenth Amendment because the drug testing is fair (34). The procedural due process of the Fourteenth Amendment is also upheld because the process for collecting the urine sample is fair (35). Neither the law, nor procedure, deprives any person of life, liberty, or property. The Skinner v. Railway case of 1989 helped the justices make a decision because the case also dealt with drug testing (36) Justice Ginsburg concurred, stating that the District could constitutionally demand drug tests on any student who’s required to attend school (37). Justice O’Connor, Stevens, and Sauter dissented, stating that the student athletes give no reason to suspect of drug use (38). Impact of Decision
Federal government officials praised the Court’s decision as supportive of their war against illegal drug use. The ruling was thought as a victory for the kids By Lee Brown, Clinton’s advisor on drug policy (39). A leader of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Court for failing to protect the students in schools (40). The case was used as a precedent in the case Board of Education v. Earls of 2002 (41). *