Chandler v. Miller
Decided on Apr. 15, 1997; 520 US 305

"Georgia's requirement that candidates for state office pass a drug test does not fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches."



A. Issues Discussed:  Privacy, search 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the Georgia requirement that candidates for designated state offices certify that they have taken a drug test with negative results rank among the limited circumstances in which suspicionless searches are warranted?


A. Background:

"A Georgia statute requires candidates for designated state offices to certify that they have taken a urinalysis drug test within 30 days prior to qualifying for nomination or election and that the test result was negative. Petitioners, Libertarian Party nominees for state offices subject to the statute's requirements, filed this action in the District Court about one month before the deadline for submission of the certificates. Naming as defendants the Governor and two officials involved in the statute's administration, petitioners asserted, inter alia, that the drug tests violated their rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The District Court denied petitioners' motion for a preliminary injunction and later entered final judgment for respondents. Relying on this Court's precedents sustaining drug testing programs for student athletes, Customs Service employees, Treasury Employees, and railway employees, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The court accepted as settled law that the tests were searches, but reasoned that, as was true of the drug testing programs at issue in Skinner and Von Raab, the statute served 'special needs,' interests other than the ordinary needs of law enforcement. Balancing the individual's privacy expectations against the State's interest in the drug testing program, the court held the statute, as applied to petitioners, not inconsistent with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments."

On certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Walker L. Chandler, petitioner, argued the cause and filed a brief pro se. With him on the briefs for petitioners was Robert E. Turner.

Stephen H. Sachs, Steven R. Shapiro, Gerald R. Weber, Arthur B. Spitzer, and Barbara E. Bergman filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
Patricia Guilday, Assistant Attorney General of Georgia, argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief were Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General, Michael E. Hobbs, Deputy Attorney General, and Dennis D. Dunn, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

Richard K. Willard, Daniel J. Popeo, and Paul D. Kamenar filed a brief for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.


"Georgia's requirement that candidates for state office pass a drug test does not fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches.

It is uncontested that Georgia's drug testing requirement, imposed by law and enforced by state officials, effects a search within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The pivotal question here is whether the searches are reasonable. To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. But particularized exceptions to the main rule are sometimes warranted based on 'special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement.' When such 'special needs' are alleged, courts must undertake a context specific inquiry, examining closely the competing private and public interests advanced by the parties...

Georgia has failed to show a special need that is substantial--important enough to override the individual's acknowledged privacy interest, sufficiently vital to suppress the Fourth Amendment's normal requirement of individualized suspicion... Notably lacking in respondents' presentation is any indication of a concrete danger demanding departure from the Fourth Amendment's main rule. The statute was not enacted, as repondents concede, in response to any fear or suspicion of drug use by state officials. A demonstrated problem of drug abuse, while not in all cases necessary to the validity of a testing regime, would shore up an assertion of special need for a suspicionless general search program...

Georgia asserts no evidence of a drug problem among the State's elected officials, those officials typically do not perform high risk, safety sensitive tasks, and the required certification immediately aids no interdiction effort. The need revealed is symbolic, not 'special.' The Fourth Amendment shields society from state action that diminishes personal privacy for a symbol's sake."

The United States Supreme Court reversed the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit judgment.
Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit; the Supreme Court reversed in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.