Passing the Bottle
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
The questions asked by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 4 would indicate considerable skepticism about a new requirement that all Georgia political candidates submit to drug tests.
Challenging the law were Georgia Libertarian candidates Walker Chandler, Sharon Harris, and James Walker, who ran for lieutenant governor, state agriculture commissioner, and the Georgia Legislature (respectively). All passed their drug tests last year, after submitting to them under protest. None won election.
Georgia Assistant Attorney General Patricia Guilday argued the mandatory testing program is desirable not only to guarantee habitual drug users never end up on the ballot, but also to send a "zero tolerance" message.
But Ms. Guilday conceded, under questioning by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, that there is no evidence of a drug problem among elected officials there. Articles cited by the plaintiffs from Georgia's "Legislative Review" report the original sponsors "proposed the legislation out of a sense of fairness rather than any genuine fear that state politicians were not drug free," arguing that "if ... state politicians require drug testing of state employees, they too should undergo drug testing" to quiet any complaints about the way such testing "infringes upon the rights of government employees."
Justice David Souter got Ms. Guilday to agree that requiring all candidates to submit to drug searches of their homes would be unconstitutional. He then asked her to explain "why opening a house is more intrusive than opening a body."
"Doesn't the Constitution come first?" asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Indeed it does.
In fact, Libertarians do not share the goals of the national "Drug War," nor embrace its methods. The platform of the 24-year-old national Libertarian Party calls for an end to the drug war, and the legalization of all drugs, as a more sensible solution to inner-city violence and constitutional infringements.
(It worked in 1933, when we re-legalized alcohol. And at least alcohol Prohibition was properly authorized, with a constitutional amendment. When was the amendment passed that overruled Americans' historical Ninth Amendment medical liberties, authorizing this corrosive and hopeless "Drug War"?)
No matter where voters or justices come down on that issue, there can be little doubt that such matters are and should be legitimate topics for political debate.
There was a time, less than a century ago, when all the drugs for which Georgia now tests were legal for sale without restriction. One of the great marketing success stories of that state, Coca-Cola, was not so named because it contained coconuts. The legal sale of marijuana in California is making headlines even today.
Thus, to require that candidates who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights to argue against the ongoing "Drug War," first symbolically embrace and submit to the most debasing rituals of the drug warriors, is no less well-designed to discourage such candidacies than a state law declaring that Jews are free to run for public office ... so long as they first publicly kiss a crucifix, or that members of the Democratic Party are allowed on the ballot ... only if they first swear under oath that they are do not favor the redistribution of wealth, and are not taking orders from Moscow.
In fact, the court heard cases involving just such anti-Communist "loyalty oaths" in 1974, and tossed them into the trash bin of history ... which is just where Georgia should now deposit its symbolic "universal mandatory drug tests."
As plaintiff Walker Chandler -- also acting as counsel for the other plaintiffs -- writes in his brief to the court: "The only logical reason for the state to require the testing is to compel the candidates to make a symbolic statement of support for the drug war. ...
"The Libertarian party is a party of people who believe the drug war is unnecessary and a great waste of resources by the federal and state government. ... The candidates' refusal is both a statement that they reject the actions take in the 'drug war' and the resulting constitutional violations. ...
"In the case at Bar, the libertarians candidates are attempting to make a politically charged statement that they refuse to submit to a constitutionally prohibited government search. But upon refusal of the test, the candidates are then prevented from participating in the electoral contest. ... There can be little doubt that the state is trying to force speech on an individual, speech that belongs in the political debate."
The court is expected to rule by July.
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.
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