Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Would Violate The Constitution's Intent

Published 4:04 pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the legislative march to drug test welfare recipients, the General Assembly must be most particularly careful that the Commonwealth does not infringe upon individual Constitutional rights.

The end does not justify the means and our Founding Fathers would cringe at the thought.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires-not an optional extra-government agencies to respect the “right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

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Urine testing is a “search.”

Someone's socio-economic status or income level does not mean, and must be construed to mean or create in effect, that Constitutional freedoms are reduced proportionally, or by any degree whatsoever. The Constitution is not a showroom with various rights to fit all wallets.

We all need to be conservative on this issue and must conserve and preserve our basic values as Americans with regard to our fundamental Constitutional rights.

For the same reason, though I personally can see no need for someone to own dozens of handguns, any limit on lawful handgun purchases is unconstitutional because that law would limit application and effect of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Our Constitutional freedoms must not be subject either to personal whims or ardent political beliefs.

Oddly, many of the same legislators in Richmond who supported repeal of the one handgun per month limit are supporting drug testing of welfare recipients. The two positions are contradictory in terms of our Constitution.

Many of these General Assembly members also support a new voter ID law that opponents feel would disproportionately impact the young, the elderly, and the poor, discouraging their participation in elections. The United States Constitution has not one but four separate amendments regarding our right to vote. Those amendments opened the door for more and more Americans to vote, everyone 18 and older. Clearly, the Constitution vigorously seeks to fully extend the right to vote. The Senate's voter ID bill should be regarded in the context of the Constitution's intent.

The Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, is challenging drug testing for welfare recipients. In a letter to Senate Finance Committee members, Institute president John W. Whitehead writes, “the very idea that a person's financial need diminishes his or her basic civil rights is repugnant to a society in which all persons, rich or poor, are seen as equals before the law.”

He adds that, “While the Institute appreciates the desire of our elected officials to ensure that public dollars are not misspent, we are ever wary that, as Justice Brandeis once explained, 'The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.'”

During his remarks to the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce, our new 22nd District State Senator Tom Garrett spoke of his support for drug testing welfare recipients. “There's nothing punitive about this. It's not targeted at any group of people,” he said during the chamber's January membership meeting prior to the January 11 opening of the General Assembly. “I'm wholly convinced, based on the reading I've done, that you can't break the cycle of poverty where the cycle of addiction exists-except in extraordinary cases…

“…So this ultimately is about allowing people to get to a position where they can help themselves because I fundamentally believe in my very core that you will always help yourself better than the state will help you. And so if you can get on your feet and be able to help yourself you'll do a better job of it,” the Republican Senator said.

Those are well-meaning sentiments, indeed.

But tearing away at the fabric of our Constitutional freedoms, however unintended, is not the way to help people help themselves.

Once we accept drug testing for welfare recipients as worth turning a blind eye to the Constitution, we set a precedent that may have appalling consequences down the road.

Wait just a minute-diminishing the Fourth Amendment rights of welfare recipients is an appalling consequence right here on the road right now.