Court Weighs Mandatory Drug Tests for Candidates

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The U.S. Supreme Court last week weighed the question of whether a state may require candidates for public office to submit to mandatory drug testing as a condition of appearing on the ballot.

Several justices seemed skeptical about the constitutionality of a Georgia law that requires drug testing of candidates for such statewide offices as governor, attorney general, and state schools superintendent.

A high court ruling upholding the law might open the door for school districts to test school board members, administrators, and teachers. A decision striking down the law would likely discourage efforts to expand testing of public employees who are not involved in safety- or security-related jobs.

A group of Libertarian Party candidates for state office in Georgia challenged the drug tests as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.

Walker L. Chandler, the party's unsuccessful 1994 candidate for lieutenant governor, told the justices the state legislature engaged in "cheap symbolism" when it adopted the drug-testing law in 1990.

"There is no evidence of a real problem" of drug abuse among candidates in Georgia, Mr. Chandler said during the Jan. 14 oral arguments in Chandler v. Miller (Case No. 96-126).

Tough Questions

The high court has upheld drug testing of railroad employees after crashes and safety violations, and of customs agents seeking positions in drug-interdiction efforts. In 1995, the court upheld the random drug testing of students involved in interscholastic athletics.

In defending the candidate drug-testing law, the state and others emphasized that public officials serve as role models for all citizens.

But several justices expressed doubts.

"This court looks a little more closely at totally suspicionless searches, doesn't it?" Justice Antonin Scalia said.

A decision is expected by July.

Title VII Coverage

Separately, the high court issued a ruling last week that will likely bring more small employers, including small school districts and private schools, under the jurisdiction of the main federal employment-discrimination law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with 15 or more workers in 20 or more weeks per year. In a unanimous ruling in Walters v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises Inc. (No. 95-259), the court resolved a split among lower courts over how to count employees to determine whether the employers fall under Title VII.

The court backed a more expansive definition that is based on the number of workers on a company's payroll.

The ruling revives a federal lawsuit filed by a woman who was fired from her job at a Chicago-based distributor of encyclopedias and other educational materials.

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