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Chandler v. Miller 620 U.S. 305 (1997)

CHANDLER v. MILLER 620 U.S. 305 (1997)

In Chandler v. Miller, the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion by Justice ruth bader ginsburg, struck down a Georgia statute requiring candidates for certain state offices (including judges, legislators, and executive officials) to certify that they had taken and passed a urinalysis test for illegal drugs within thirty days prior to qualifying for nomination or election. The Court characterized this requirement as an unreasonable search under the fourth amendment. Following precedent, the Court indicated that a reasonable search must normally be based on "individualized suspicion of wrongdoing" unless a "particularized exception" applies. Such an exception can only be justified if, first, the court finds "special needs" for the search "beyond the normal need for law enforcement" or "crime detection"; and, second, if pursuant to a "context specific inquiry" that balances the "competing private and public interests," a court finds that the privacy interests are "minimal" and that substantial enough governmental interests would be "placed in jeopardy by a requirement of individualized suspicion." Unlike the evidence of drug use by railway employees in skinner v. railway labor executives ' association (1989) and by students in Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton (1995), the record did not contain evidence that the danger of drug use by candidates was "concrete" or "real," or that the public safety was at immediate risk. Unlike the record in National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab (1989), the record in this case did not show that criminal investigation would be inadequate. Nor did it show that drug testing (the timing of which was in the candidate's control) would effectively deter drug use. Georgia's real interest, the Court concluded, was not "special" but "symbolic," namely, the "image the State seeks to project." Accordingly, the Court found that the risk to public safety was not "substantial" or "important" enough to override the candidate's privacy. The Court explicitly did not reach the Fourth Amendment questions involved in requiring candidates to undergo and disclose the results of a general medical exam or to make a financial disclosure.

The lone dissenter, Chief Justice william h. rehnquist, showed that the Court could easily have reached the opposite conclusion under the malleable special-needs doctrine, which had been fashioned during his tenure as chief justice and had moved Fourth Amendment debate away from probable cause and warrants and toward whether suspicion is necessary at all.

In this case involving a search of judges, the Court appeared at last to be troubled by its ever-decreasing protection of privacy as it cast about for some ground on which to limit the potent special-needs doctrine to only a few exceptional cases (like airport searches) where privacy interests are minimal and there is substantial evidence that public safety is in jeopardy. But in striking down the statute, the Court devised no clear or effective limits on this doctrine and questioned no earlier opinion applying it. Alternatively, given the unique facts of this case, perhaps the Court was troubled not by a concern for privacy but for the potential constraints on public discourse and electoral campaigns that may result if, for purely symbolic purposes, a previously elected legislature can compel, through intrusive investigations, newly contending candidates for office to acquiesce in its policies and thereby obtain their implicit acceptance of policies that should instead be subject to debate.

Robert D. Goldstein

(see also: Drug Regulation; Search and Seizure.)

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