The Supreme Court

Testing for Drugs

Drug-free schools are a slogan you see in many communities. Working to keep them that way is a constant challenge for school administrations. Some schools conduct periodic drug testing for students. One such program at Tecumseh, Oklahoma School District requires all middle and high school students who want to participate in extracurricular activities to submit to urinalysis testing for drugs.

Court Connotations

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Two Tecumseh High School students and their parents sued the school saying this policy violated the students Fourth Amendment rights. The district court disagreed and ruled in favor of the school administrators. The students and parents then appealed the case to the circuit court, which ruled in their favor and agreed the policy did violate the Fourth Amendment.

The board of education appealed the circuit court decision to the Supreme Court in the case Board of Education v. Earls. The case was decided and on a split 5 to 4 decision. Justice Thomas wrote the opinion of the Court and was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Breyer. Justice O'Connor filed a dissent and was joined by Souter. Justice Ginsburg also wrote a dissent and was joined by Stevens, O'Connor and Souter.

In the majority opinion announced June 27, 2002, Thomas wrote:

Supreme Sayings

“The ruling could not have come at a better time. Monitoring the Future, a national survey that tracks drug use among America's youth, reports that in 2001 more than half of all students had used illicit drugs by the time they finished high school. Moreover, the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse revealed that of the 4.5 million people age 12 and older who need drug treatment, 23 percent are teenagers.

—John P. Walters, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Bush Administration

In deciding this case the majority used a precedent set in 1995—Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton—in which a school district was granted the right to test all athletes for drugs because drug use could increase the risk of sports injury. In writing her dissent, Justice O'Connor did not believe the Tecumseh School District's drug testing program met the test:

Given how closely divided the court was on this issue, it is likely another case will wind its way to the Court in the future.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Supreme Court © 2004 by Lita Epstein, J.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


Special Books for the Kids You Love
Celebrate 20 years of sharing love to the moon and back with the anniversary edition of Guess How Much I Love You, one of the world’s best-loved picture books. Plus, search our Book Finder for more great book picks. Brought to you by Candlewick Press.

Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Top 10 Math & Science Apps for Your Whiz Kid
Looking for the best math and science apps for kids? Check out these cool apps for all ages, which will grow your child's love of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks