Jewish World Review July 15, 2002 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | President Bush didn't do it. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) didn't do it. No Republican think tank did it. But five old judges on the U.S. Supreme Court have raised the issue that could - and should - generate a political comeback for the Republican Party - drug testing.
By a 5-4 vote on June 27, the court approved a broad program to drug test all students who participate in any high school extracurricular activity. Speaking for four of the justices in the majority, Clarence Thomas advocated a broad authority to test any student for drugs for any reason basing his view on the in loco parentis power of the school to act in the place of the parent as the child's daytime custodian. Justice Steven Breyer, displaying the judicial independence that is increasingly earning him respect, reasoned that it was acceptable to require drug testing as long as a student could opt out by declining participation in after-school activities.
Recent national polls confirm that 72 percent of voters support "requiring all high school students whose parents consent to take drug tests" with 52 percent strongly supporting the proposal. (Asked if they would back mandatory drug testing with or without parental consent, only 40 percent approved.)
Drugs are a huge problem that has disappeared from the national political agenda. But asked to rate the seriousness of the problem, 75 percent of those polled rated it very or somewhat serious, tied with the possibility of another terrorist attack in the United States and ahead of the ratings for the cost of prescription drugs (63 percent), the future of Social Security (68 percent), the health of the American economy (61 percent), sex and violence on television (59 percent), and the level of federal taxes (44 percent).
If the court held that the school's power as custodian justified testing, clearly it would uphold the policy if parental consent were actually required.
Presumably, even Justice Breyer would approve if parents had the right to opt out.
The issue of school drug testing would put a key morality/crime issue back on the national agenda, a focus that has been sorely lacking since a combination of the Republicans' prison and sentencing programs and the Democrats' gun controls and extra police started the free fall reduction in the national crime rate. The absence of such an issue haunts Republican prospects in future elections.
By stressing parental approval in drug testing, the legislation offers not to override family protections, but to reinforce them, making the school an arm of a parent's decisions about his or her children. Where parents are not available or do not have custody, a court would, presumably, exercise this power under new legislation.
Why hasn't the GOP leadership latched onto this issue? Who knows? But now that it is staring them in the face, perhaps they will wake up to its enormous political potential.
Most liberals can be counted on to oppose drug testing as intrusive and unconstitutional. But the recent Supreme Court decision cuts the ground out from under their advocacy. The left would be in the position of approving the ongoing expenditure of vast sums of money and risk to large numbers of federal agents to combat the flow of drugs while saying that the issue wasn't important enough to require a simple, noninvasive test of students.
President Bush has carved out an important national constituency for testing students based on the desire to help those who need remedial aid. But can a child learn while on drugs? Shouldn't we find out who is flirting with this menace early enough to do something about it?
Republican drug-testing legislation must also include treatment programs for those found to be drug users and should also provide for alternate residential facilities for those who are habitual users. The rotten apple theory holds especially true where the epidemic of drug use among our children is concerned.
The Republicans should use the remaining weeks of the session to force a floor
vote in each house on the issue of parentally approved drug testing. It will
provide the kind of wedge issue in the fall campaigns that the party desperately
needs. And it will do very important things to help the millions of kids who are
taking drugs and risking a lifetime of debilitating dependence.
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