Statement of Empower America Co-Director William J. Bennett On the Supreme Court’s Decision In Pottawatomie County v. Earls

Today the United States Supreme Court held that testing students engaged in extracurricular activities for drug use does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Not only is this decision consistent with the Court’s 1995 decision upholding drug testing for student-athletes, it is the correct decision, both constitutionally and for the good of students across America. As Justice Thomas put it in the majority opinion, “this policy reasonably serves the school district’s important interest in detecting and preventing drug use among its students.”

The dissenting opinion held that the policy is “capricious, even perverse,” contending that the drug problem in Pottawatomie, Oklahoma, is not severe enough to warrant testing students for drug use. First, it is clear that the drug problem in the United States is sufficiently severe that a school district is justified in testing its students for drug use: 54 percent of American high school seniors have used illegal drugs at least once by the time they graduate, and over one-quarter of them use drugs on a regular basis. More importantly, the reality of the drug problem is such that preventive action must be taken: Should the district wait until after drug use is a problem to implement a preventive policy? As Justice Breyer wrote in his concurrence, “The drug problem in our nation’s schools is serious in terms of size, the kinds of drugs being used, and the consequences of that use both for our children and the rest of us.”

The consequences for failing a drug test were fairly negligible; students were not disciplined or subject to academic penalties. They were, rather, precluded from participating in extracurricular activities – and this only after three positive drug tests. And since the consequence for a failed drug test involved notifying parents and encouraging a student to seek treatment and counseling, one would think that those who advocate a more “treatment-oriented” drug policy would support the school’s procedures.

Drug use among the young remains at unacceptably high levels across our nation; it is a pathology that cuts across racial, economic, and social boundaries. Schools, in their ineluctable role as educators of character, are right to try to prevent students from using drugs and to treat students who do. Pottawatomie’s policy emphasizes just that: prevention and treatment. The Court’s decision is a good one for our children and our country.

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