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Supreme Court Declines Challenge to White House Drug Testing


March-April 1998

The Supreme Court on March 2 denied review of an appeals court decision that White House employees can be required to take random drug tests in order to insure presidential safety (Stigile v. Clinton, No. 97-837, 118 SupCt 1163, 110 F.3d 801 (1997)) (Joan Biskupic, "Court Allows Drug Tests for OEOB Pass Holders," Washington Post, March 3, 1998, p. A7; Frank J. Murray, "White House tests for drugs upheld," Washington Times, March 3, 1998, p. A6; David G. Savage, "Federal Workers Lose Bid to Halt Drug Testing," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), March 3, 1998, p. A5).

The case stems from a 1986 executive order by President Reagan requiring White House agencies to set up drug testing programs for employees in "sensitive positions." In 1995, the Clinton Administration expanded that program to include budget analysts and permanent pass holders to the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB). About 7,000 workers are covered by that order. Arthur W. Stigile and Ellen Balis, two economists with the White House Office of Management and Budget, protested the random drug testing, saying that it violated their constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

A federal judge initially blocked the broader testing order. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the expanded testing, saying that "permanent pass holders are in a superior position to acquire information on the comings and goings of the president and vice president. ... They are therefore far more valuable sources for blackmailers who wish to harm either official."

Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman said in a brief to the Supreme Court, "A drug-using OEOB pass holder is in a unique position to harm the president or vice president." Waxman added that "mind altering drugs could induce a pass-holder to take actions that would jeopardize the safety of those officials."

Benjamin S. Boyd, attorney for Stigile and Balis, argued that the appeals court ruling "would permit random drug testing of virtually any federal employee in the Washington area." He added that employees have "been going over to the OEOB for the last 12 to 15 years and have never been subjected to drug testing. It's just sort of a get-tough stance with no real substance."

Boyd urged the high court to take the case in light of the court's 1997 ruling in Chandler v. Miller, where the court rejected a Georgia law that required candidates for state office to submit to a drug test. In Chandler, the court said that because urinalysis testing intrudes on a person's right to privacy, it should be used only when the risk to public safety "is substantial and real" (Chandler v. Miller, US SupCt., No. 96-126, 61CrL2010, (April 15, 1997)) (see "Drug Testing Political Candidates Violates Fourth Amendment, Supreme Court Rules," NewsBriefs, May-June 1997). The Supreme Court has allowed random drug testing of railroad workers and Customs Service agents involved in drug law enforcement.

Drug tests are not required of interns, volunteers and government contractors with access to the White House and other executive buildings. The Supreme Court does not impose drug testing on its employees.

Benjamin S. Boyd - 1200 19th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036, Tel: (202) 861-3942.