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High Court To Decide if States Can Hear U.S. Rights-Violation Cases

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to consider whether state courts have jurisdiction to decide claims for compensation arising from alleged violations of federal constitutional rights.

The case, Howlett v. Rose (No. 89-5383), concerns a high-school student's claim that school officials in Pinellas County, Fla., violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure when they searched his car without permission and suspended him after discovering alcohol in the automobile.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled in the case that lower state courts are not empowered to hear suits seeking damages under Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which allows individuals to seek compensation from public officials who violate their federal constitutional rights.

The lower courts have not ruled on the merits of the case because of the unresolved jurisdictional question.

Allowing state courts to hear claims under Section 1983 would provide for more timely relief, because complainants frequently face scheduling delays in the federal courts, a lawyer for the student argued in papers filed with the High Court.

In other action, the Court declined to review a ruling that allows random drug testing of police officers who are not suspected drug abusers.

In Guiney v. Roache (No. 89-205), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a police-department policy in Boston that subjects officers who carry guns or are involved in drug interdiction to random drug tests.

In its decision, the First Circuit panel relied on the Supreme Court's ruling in National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, which upheld mandatory drug testing for certain Customs Service officers seeking promotions.

Also last week, the Court decided to permit the Justice Department to participate in oral arguments in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens (No. 88-1597), one of the most closely watched education cases of the current term.

The department has argued in papers filed in the case that student religious groups should be granted the same access to school facilities accorded to other student clubs.--ws

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