Jim Davenport, Associated PressFebruary 6, 2008
A South Carolina legislator wants candidates seeking public office, from school boards to the U.S. Senate, to take drug tests, despite warnings the proposal is unconstitutional.
Sen. Harvey Peeler's bill was prompted by former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, who pleaded guilty to a federal cocaine charge last year and awaits sentencing.
Peeler and members of a Senate subcommittee have been frustrated this week by testimony from a University of South Carolina law professor who says the requirement would be unconstitutional.
"Suspicionless drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment," said Thomas Crocker, who specializes in constitutional law.
In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled in a Georgia case that candidates for public office could not be required to undergo state drug tests. The court struck down a 5-year-old law that required candidates for state office and many local offices to certify they had passed drug tests before their names could appear on ballots.
The Senate panel asked Crocker how to get around the Supreme Court ruling, but he said even random drug testing would violate the law.
The panel asked why private or government employers could require drug tests and continued to question Crocker about the constitutional protections, and he said there was a need to protect public safety.
Peeler said the state requires drug tests in jobs when public safety isn't a concern, citing massage therapists and boxers.
"I'm still optimistic," Peeler said after the hearing. "It's a matter of public trust out there."