Taking the Constitution to the Potty

June 30, 1995|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington -- I have won an Emmy and other prizes for my television reports and writings about the curse of drug abuse in America.

I have lost sleep over the nightmarish delivery-room sight of a beautiful teen-ager delivering a heroin-addicted baby -- a teen-ager who became addicted to heroin in high school.

I have supported and begged for government and private programs of treatment, personal support and law enforcement to ease drug sicknesses that ruin so many promising lives.

But I have never imagined that the U.S. Supreme Court would think some solution to the drug problem might lie in forced, random urine tests for high school athletes who have never been accused or suspected of using drugs.

However great the drugs curse, I have never believed it so great a threat to this society that we ought to suspend the Bill of Rights or say ''to hell with the Constitution'' and its prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures of students or anyone else.

Creating an unfree society will not guarantee drug-free high schools, colleges or church choirs.

But this week, in a 6-3 decision, our increasingly conservative Supreme Court declined to conserve aged safeguards against government intrusions, bodily and otherwise. It ruled that high school officials in Vernonia, Oregon, can go to the potty with jock students randomly to see if any of the teen athletes are using marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

In Vernonia the panic that produced a random drug dragnet that the Supreme Court has elevated to a sabotage of the Fourth Amendment did not include alcohol or steroids, the drugs most abused by athletes at any level. That's unsettling.

More frightening to me is the fact that the Clinton administration, utterly defensive about anti-drug policies that are abysmal failures, rushed to endorse the Supreme Court decision as sending ''exactly the right message to parents and students: Drug use will not be tolerated in our schools.''

Let me state clearly: I don't want drug abuse tolerated in the White House, let alone public schools. But I don't think the problem is widespread enough in either place to allow government goons to demand analysis of the blood, urine or other bodily fluids of individuals who have not been accused of violating any drug law, and who hold no jobs critical to public safety.

Vernonia had 500 students tested over 4 1/2 years and only 12 tested positive. Some social crisis! This is justification for suspending the constitutional rights of privacy of all school kids? Justice Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion that Vernonia's policy ''was undertaken in furtherance of the government's responsibilities, under a public school system, as guardian and tutor of children entrusted to its care.''

What shallow justification for grotesque police statism!

Mr. Scalia ignored the fact that James Acton, the innocent, suspected-by-nobody child in this case, was no ''ward of the state'' in any reasonable sense. He has parents who viewed it as offensive and unconstitutional for the school to force James to submit to annual and random drug testing just to participate in athletics. They sued. They lost, thanks to Justice Scalia et al.

What will be the consequences? Some school officials will believe Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who in dissent said, ''Protection of privacy . . . was then and is now the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment.'' They will not duplicate the costly and divisive Vernonia search-and-test program for any students.

Other school officials will prove Justice O'Connor's observation that ''the greatest threats to our constitutional freedoms come in times of crisis.'' Those most panicked will even try to extend forced and random drug testing to members of the glee club, the academic debate team, everywhere, precise because Justice Scalia says students ''lack some of the most fundamental rights of self-determination including even the right of liberty. . . . They are subject, even as to their physical freedom, to the control of their parents or guardians.''

James Acton was perfectly controlled by his parents and was no problem for his schoolhouse ''guardians.'' It is appalling and frightening that a frustrated Clinton administration that cannot curb either the victims or villains of drug abuse would applaud approval of any scheme to dump the many innocent with the few possibly guilty into a pot of young people who are cavalierly stripped of their constitutional protections.

I would expect this counterproductive lash at teen-agers from this Supreme Court. But I say shame on the Clinton administration!

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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