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National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab


A law enforcement agency, which had one of its primary enforcement missions the interdiction and seizure of illegal drugs smuggled into the country, implemented a drug-screening program requiring urinalysis tests of employees seeking transfer or promotion to a position that has either a direct involvement in drug interdiction or requiring the incumbent to carry firearms or to handle “classified” material. Among other things, the program required that an applicant be notified that selection is contingent upon successful completion of drug screening, set forth procedures for collection and analysis of samples, and limited the intrusion on employee privacy. The test results could not be turned over to any other agency, including criminal prosecutors, without the employee’s written consent.


Whether the government’s program constituted and an unreasonable intrusion into its employees’ privacy?


No. The program constituted a reasonable effort that met the government’s special interests.


The program’s intrusions are searches that must meet the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment. However, the government’s testing program is not designed to serve the ordinary needs of criminal evidence collection. The purposes of the program are to deter drug use among those eligible for promotion to sensitive positions and to prevent the promotion of drug users to those positions. Therefore, the Court balanced the public interest in the program against the employee’s privacy concerns. The government’s compelling interest is that certain employees must be physically fit and have unimpeachable integrity and judgment. It also has a compelling interest in preventing the risk to the life of the citizenry posed by the potential use of deadly force by persons suffering from impaired perception and judgment.

The Court held that a warrant is not required here. Such a requirement would serve only to divert valuable agency resources from the government’s primary mission that would be compromised if warrants were necessary in connection with routine, yet sensitive, employment decisions. Furthermore, a search or inspection warrant would provide little or no additional protection of personal privacy, since the government’s program defines narrowly and specifically the circumstances justifying testing and the permissible limits of such intrusions. Affected employees know that they must be tested, are aware of the testing procedures that the government must follow, and are not subject to the discretion of officials in the field. The government’s testing of employees who apply for promotion to positions directly involving the interdiction of illegal drugs, or to positions that require the incumbent to carry firearms, is reasonable despite the absence of probable cause or some other level of individualized suspicion.


489 U.S. 656, 109 S. Ct. 1384 (1989)

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