Scott Walker's Repellent, Unconstitutional Call to Drug-Test Welfare Recipients


Never trust a politician to do the right thing. And by right thing, I mean not simply an action that is morally defensible but one that is constitutional.

Hot Air's Noah Rothman reports that Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) is proposing "to impose narcotics testing on prospective recipients of food stamps and unemployment benefits." Rothman points out that Wisconsin is one of five states that tests applicants who have felony drug convictions and, more important, that Walker's blanket proposal is almost certainly unconstitutional:

A 2003 case out of Michigan established that "suspicionless" drug testing for prospective social welfare beneficiaries represented a violation of their personal liberties. The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in that case that drug testing can be imposed on an applicant only if there is reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

That's how it should be. There's no reason to treat food stamp recipients or collectors of unemployment benefits (for which they paid unemployment insurance) as moral defectives. You'd expect Walker, who in 2012 hailed the rise of a new class of "libertarian" governors to Reason, to grok that.

There's also a question of cost, too. Walker is supposed to be tight with a penny, right? That's part of his, er, charm.

Yet his sort of drug-testing is not only repellent on ethical grounds, it's a clear waste of money. If a recent program in Missouri is any indication, Wisconsin will be collecting urine by the bucketful to catch very few bad actors (and that assumes smoking dope, say, should be a reason to pull somebody's benefits). Last year, Missouri started testing suspected drug users (note: suspected, meaning there was at least some hypothetical reason to think a person was using drugs). The state ended up spending $500,000 to test 636 people, of which 20 were found to be using. So around 3 percent of suspects tested positive and each test cost around $786. Before courts ruled Florida's drug-testing regime illegal, the Sunshine State spent $115,000 on piss tests and ended up coughing up $600,000 in reimbursements to applicants who had been denied benefits.

So why might Walker be doing it? Rothman supplies a disturbing answer:

The answer seems clear. These reforms are rather popular with base Republican voters, and the institutions which would oppose Walker's reform are not. This is a pretty clear indication that Walker is interested in translating his successes in Wisconsin into the Republican presidential nomination.

And Republicans wonder why Americans have a negative view of the party? Something like 72 percent of Americans disapprove of the GOP and just 23 percent of millennials identify as Republican. If calling for drug tests of welfare recipients and out of work people is "a clear indication" that you're running for president, who can blame us?

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"Urine — or You're Out: Drug testing is invasive, insulting, and generally irrelevant to job performance. Why do so many companies insist on it?"