The U.S. Supreme Court met on the campus of Northwest Missouri State University this week to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Maryville R-II School District's random drug-testing policy.
Well, not really. But students taking Assistant Professor Daniel Smith's course in constitutional law gave it their best shot.
In an hour-long role-playing exercise, the students acted as both Supreme Court justices and attorneys representing the two sides of the drug-testing debate, which, as it turns out, has a judicial history going back for years.
Just as would be the case in a real high court proceeding, the panel rendered no decision — that's a process that generally takes weeks or even months. But its members did engage in the give-and-take questioning common to Supreme Court proceedings, where justices are allowed to ask attorneys anything at anytime.
Smith, who participated in the exercise in the role of Chief Justice John Roberts, opened with a brief description of how controversies over drug testing are part of the larger question about what constitutes limited government and personal liberty, the notion that there are "things the government can and cannot do."
The crux of the matter, Smith said, is Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, often called the "search and seizure amendment." It reads:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
During his remarks, Smith pointed out that while most searches must be conducted under a warrant issued for probable cause, there are exceptions, such as the commonly accepted need of school districts to detect and prevent drug use.
At least that's what "attorneys" Cody Ford and Robert Amsden argued in representing the Maryville R-II School District against the mythical student plaintiff, "John Doe."
Ford and Amsden were opposed by Doe lawyers Erika Hanson and Quentin Klein, who posited that random drug testing was "grossly unjustifiable" for a number of reasons, including the fact that, statistically, school athletes, one of two R-II groups singled out for testing in the real world, commit drug abuse less often than other students.
"The district cannot dictate that you must waive your Fourth Amendment rights in order to participate in an extra-curricular activity," Amsden declared.
The Doe team also argued that singling out athletes violated their "reasonable expectation of privacy," especially since other students in representational or leadership roles, such as Student Council members, were not subject to testing.
R-II's attorneys countered that drug testing specific pools of students, those who play sports or those who drive themselves to school, served "legitimate government interests" by discouraging drug use.
Page 2 of 2 - Ford and Amsden also cited a 1995 Supreme Court case, Vernonia School District v. Acton, in which a divided court found drug testing "did not violate the Fourth Amendment given such factors as athletes' relatively low expectations of privacy," which was reduced due to requirements for "communal undress" in locker rooms and preseason physical exams.
Both sets of attorney made reference to the other major high court ruling on school drug testing, School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County (Okla.) vs. Earls, which was decided 5-4 in favor of the district.
While Ford and Amsden noted the narrow majority's belief that drug testing was "a reasonably effective means of addressing the school district's legitimate concerns," Hanson and Klein sided with the dissent of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who held that the specific drug testing program under review was "capricious, even perverse."