Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton,
515 U.S. 646 (1995)

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No. 94-590. Argued March 28, 1995-Decided June 26,1995

Motivated by the discovery that athletes were leaders in the student drug culture and concern that drug use increases the risk of sports-related injury, petitioner school district (District) adopted the Student Athlete Drug Policy (Policy), which authorizes random urinalysis drug testing of students who participate in its athletics programs. Respondent Acton was denied participation in his school's football program when he and his parents (also respondents) refused to consent to the testing. They then filed this suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the grounds that the Policy violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Oregon Constitution. The District Court denied the claims, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Policy violated both the Federal and State Constitutions.

Held: The Policy is constitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 652-666.

(a) State-compelled collection and testing of urine constitutes a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn., 489 U. S. 602, 617. Where there was no clear practice, either approving or disapproving the type of search at issue, at the time the constitutional provision was enacted, the "reasonableness" of a search is judged by balancing the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the promotion of legitimate governmental interests. Pp. 652-654.

(b) The first factor to be considered in determining reasonableness is the nature of the privacy interest on which the search intrudes. Here, the subjects of the Policy are children who have been committed to the temporary custody of the State as schoolmaster; in that capacity, the State may exercise a degree of supervision and control greater than it could exercise over free adults. The requirements that public school children submit to physical examinations and be vaccinated indicate that they have a lesser privacy expectation with regard to medical examinations and procedures than the general population. Student athletes have even less of a legitimate privacy expectation, for an element of communal undress is inherent in athletic participation, and athletes are


subject to preseason physical exams and rules regulating their conduct. Pp. 654-657.

(c) The privacy interests compromised by the process of obtaining urine samples under the Policy are negligible, since the conditions of collection are nearly identical to those typically encountered in public restrooms. In addition, the tests look only for standard drugs, not medical conditions, and the results are released to a limited group. Pp. 658-660.

(d) The nature and immediacy of the governmental concern at issue, and the efficacy of this means for meeting it, also favor a finding of reasonableness. The importance of deterring drug use by all this Nation's schoolchildren cannot be doubted. Moreover, the Policy is directed more narrowly to drug use by athletes, where the risk of physical harm to the user and other players is high. The District Court's conclusion that the District's concerns were immediate is not clearly erroneous, and it is self-evident that a drug problem largely caused by athletes, and of particular danger to athletes, is effectively addressed by ensuring that athletes do not use drugs. The Fourth Amendment does not require that the "least intrusive" search be conducted, so respondents' argument that the drug testing could be based on suspicion of drug use, if true, would not be fatal; and that alternative entails its own substantial difficulties. Pp. 660-664.

23 F.3d 1514, vacated and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 666. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS and SOUTER, JJ., joined, post, p.666.

Timothy R. Volpert argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Claudia Larkins.

Richard H. Seamon argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Leonard Schaitman, and Edward Himmelfarb.

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding

A public school does not violate the Fourth Amendment when it chooses to randomly test children participating in its athletic programs for controlled substances.

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