To support their initiative, Michigan welfare officials are citing years of widely accepted corporate drug testing; their opponents counter that private institutions are not limited, as government programs are, by the Fourth Amendment. Who's right? It depends on whom you ask, says TIME senior reporter Alain Sanders. "The current Supreme Court is very conservative on the Fourth Amendment, and they’ve given government a lot of freedom to enact what many consider to be unreasonable intrusions." In the past, explains Sanders, "the court has generally upheld random drug tests when it has perceived an important impact on safety or law enforcement. The question now is: Does random drug testing of welfare recipients serve any important safety or law enforcement rationale?" Stay tuned: Sanders believes that this case may make its way to the Supreme Court, and speculates that despite the court’s current leanings, the Justices may see fit to toss the tests.
You’ve always had to jump through hoops to get a welfare check. Now in Michigan, you also have to pee in a cup. On Friday, four counties began mandatory drug testing for all new welfare recipients. The new tests, which are the first of their kind in the country, will be administered to everyone who comes in to collect their first public assistance check; random tests will also be given to current welfare recipients. Those who test positive will be required to get treatment, and those who refuse to take the test will be cut off welfare within four months. Opponents of the initiative, including various welfare-rights groups and the ACLU, which has launched a lawsuit, argue that the tests violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches.