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Supreme Court Upholds High School Drug Testing

A closely-divided court ruled 5 to 4 that the ability of schools to rid their campuses of illegal drugs outweighs an individual’s right to privacy. The decision allows schools to test students who participate in any competitive after-school programs for drug use, even without any particular suspicion of wrongdoing.

Previously, only student athletes were required to submit to drug testing due to a 1995 Supreme Court ruling that athletes had less of an expectation for privacy and schools had a right to investigate potential drug abuse problems.

The ruling came in the case of an Oklahoma high school student who competed on an academic quiz team and sang in the school choir. Lindsay Earls tested negative for drug use but sued over a testing policy she found humiliating and accusatory.

“We find that testing students who participate in extracurricular activities is a reasonably effective means of addressing the school district’s legitimate concerns in preventing, deterring and detecting drug use,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a majority opinion for himself, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the testing program was “not reasonable, it is capricious, even perverse,” in a dissent for herself and Justice John Paul Stevens. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter filed a brief, separate dissent.

In other rulings announced Thursday, the court struck down state limits on judicial candidates’ speeches and declared one form of prison punishment unconstitutional.

In a complex free speech decision, the court ruled 5 to 4 that states’ restraints on what judicial candidates can discuss during court campaigns amount to an unconstitutional gag order.

The ruling stems from a challenge by an assembly of legal and civil liberties groups against Minnesota rules banning potential judges from discussing views on “disputed legal or political issues” in order to maintain an image of fairness and independence in the court system. Minnesota is one of nine states with similar provisions.

The court also ruled 6 to 3 that an Alabama prison practice of handcuffing inmates to a metal pole in the summer heat is unconstitutional and is “obvious” cruel and unusual punishment. The court also found that a prisoner could sue prison officials over such treatment, breaking a string of previous decisions shielding such officials from prisoner lawsuits.

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