The Supreme Court justices looked out to the frontiers of the war on drugs Tuesday and saw standing before them a soft-spoken, gentlemanly Georgian who resists taking a urine test in order to run for state office.
“This is another attempted expansion of the government’s power and for purely symbolic purposes,” Walker L. Chandler, an unsuccessful Libertarian Party candidate for lieutenant governor, told the justices.
In recent years, the high court has upheld drug tests for train engineers, airline pilots and custom agents on the grounds their jobs involve public safety or drugs themselves. But Chandler’s case may mark the outer perimeter of what is acceptable.
Georgia is the only state to require drug tests to get on the ballot, and a state attorney admitted the law was passed even though no one suspected its politicians were drug addicts.
After submitting a clean sample, Chandler challenged the requirement as an unconstitutional and unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Most of the justices sounded skeptical of the state rule.
“What is the special need in Georgia” for the drug-test requirement, asked Justice Sandra Day O’Connor insistently. “Is there any evidence of state officers who had drug problems?”
“To be frank, there is no such problem,” replied Assistant Attorney General Patricia Guilday.
Indeed, in its brief, the state cited as an example a case outside its borders - the 1990 conviction on cocaine possession charges of Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry.
While Georgia has not found drug users among its candidates, Guilday said, it is important to make clear “state office holders are held to a much higher standard that an ordinary citizen.”
“What is the state doing then other than making a political statement?” asked Justice Stephen Breyer.
A ruling is expected by June.