Vernonia School District v. Acton, No. 94-590

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtScalia
Citation115 S.Ct 2386,132 L.Ed.2d 564,515 U.S. 646
Docket NumberNo. 94-590
Decision Date26 June 1995
PartiesVERNONIA SCHOOL DISTRICT 47J, PETITIONER v. WAYNE ACTON, ET UX., ETC.
515 U.S. 646
115 S. Ct. 2386
132 L. Ed. 2d 564

VERNONIA SCHOOL DISTRICT 47J, PETITIONER
v.
WAYNE ACTON, ET UX., ETC.

No. 94-590

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

March 28, 1995, Argued

June 26, 1995, Decided

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

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.

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court

The Student Athlete Drug Policy adopted by School District 47J in the town of Vernonia, Oregon, authorizes random urinalysis drug testing of students who participate in the District's school athletics programs. We granted certiorari to decide whether this violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

I

A

Petitioner Vernonia School District 47J (District) operates one high school and three grade schools in the logging community of Vernonia, Oregon. As elsewhere in small-town America, school sports play a prominent role in the town's life, and student athletes are admired in their schools and in the community.

Drugs had not been a major problem in Vernonia schools. In the mid-to-late 1980's, however, teachers and administrators observed a sharp increase in drug use. Students began to speak out about their attraction to the drug culture, and to boast that there was nothing the school could do about it. Along with more drugs came more disciplinary problems. Between 1988 and 1989 the number of disciplinary referrals in Vernonia schools rose to more than twice the number reported in the early 1980's, and several students were suspended. Students became increasingly rude during class; outbursts of profane language became common.

Not only were student athletes included among the drug users but, as the District Court found, athletes were the leaders of the drug culture. 796 F. Supp. 1354, 1357 (Ore. 1992). This caused the District's administrators particular concern, since drug use increases the risk of sports-related injury. Expert testimony at the trial confirmed the deleterious effects of drugs on motivation, memory, judgment, reaction, coordination, and performance. The high school football and wrestling coach witnessed a severe sternum injury suffered by a wrestler, and various omissions of safety procedures and misexecutions by football players, all attributable in his belief to the effects of drug use.

Initially, the District responded to the drug problem by offering special classes, speakers, and presentations designed to deter drug use. It even brought in a specially trained dog to detect drugs, but the drug problem persisted. According to the District Court:"The administration was at its wits end and . . . a large segment of the student body, particularly those involved in interscholastic athletics, was in a state of rebellion. Disciplinary actions had reached 'epidemic proportions.' The coincidence of an almost three-fold increase in classroom disruptions and disciplinary reports along with the staff's direct observations of students using drugs or glamorizing drug and alcohol use led the administration to the inescapable conclusion that the rebellion was being fueled by alcohol and drug abuse as well as the student's misperceptions about the drug culture." Ibid.

At that point, District officials began considering a drug-testing program. They held a parent "input night" to discuss the proposed Student Athlete Drug Policy (Policy), and the parents in attendance gave their unanimous approval. The school board approved the Policy for implementation in the fall of 1989. Its expressed purpose is to prevent student athletes from using drugs, to protect their health and safety, and to provide drug users with assistance programs.

B

The Policy applies to all students participating in interscholastic athletics. Students wishing to play sports must sign a form consenting to the testing and must obtain the written consent of their parents. Athletes are tested at the beginning of the season for their sport. In addition, once each week of the season the names of the athletes are placed in a "pool" from which a student, with the supervision of two adults, blindly draws the names of 10% of the athletes for random testing. Those selected are notified and tested that same day, if possible.

The student to be tested completes a specimen control form which bears an assigned number. Prescription medications that the student is taking must be identified by providing a copy of the prescription or a doctor's authorization. The student then enters an empty locker room accompanied by an adult monitor of the same sex. Each boy selected produces a sample at a urinal, remaining fully clothed with his back to the monitor, who stands approximately 12 to 15 feet behind the student. Monitors may (though do not always) watch the student while he produces the sample, and they listen for normal sounds of urination. Girls produce samples in an enclosed bathroom stall, so that they can be heard but not observed. After the sample is produced, it is given to the monitor, who checks it for temperature and tampering and then transfers it to a vial.

The samples are sent to an independent laboratory, which routinely tests them for amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana. Other drugs, such as LSD, may be screened at the request of the District, but the identity of a particular student does not determine which drugs will be tested. The laboratory's procedures are 99.94% accurate. The District follows strict procedures regarding the chain of custody and access to test results. The laboratory does not know the identity of the students whose samples it tests. It is authorized to mail written test reports only to the superintendent and to provide test results to District personnel by telephone only after the requesting official recites a code confirming his authority. Only the superintendent, principals, vice-principals, and athletic directors have access to test results, and the results are not kept for more than one year.

If a sample tests positive, a second test is administered as soon as possible to confirm the result. If the second test is negative, no further action is taken. If the second test is positive, the athlete's parents are notified, and the school principal convenes a meeting with the student and his parents, at which the student is given the option of (1) participating for six weeks in an assistance program that includes weekly urinalysis, or (2) suffering suspension from athletics for the remainder of the current season and the next athletic season. The student is then retested prior to the start of the next athletic season for which he or she is eligible. The Policy states that a second offense results in automatic imposition of option (2); a third offense in suspension for the remainder of the current season and the next two athletic seasons.

C

In the fall of 1991, respondent James Acton, then a seventh grader, signed up to play football at one of the District's grade schools. He was denied participation, however, because he and his parents refused to sign the testing consent forms. The Actons filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from enforcement of the Policy on the grounds that it violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 9, of the Oregon Constitution. After a bench trial, the District Court entered an order denying the claims on the merits and dismissing the action. 796 F. Supp. at 1355. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the Policy violated both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Article I, § 9, of the Oregon Constitution. 23 F.3d 1514 (1994). We granted certiorari. 513 U.S. 1013 (1994).

II

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that the Federal Government shall not violate "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." We have held that the Fourteenth Amendment extends this constitutional guarantee to searches and seizures by state officers, Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 213, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1669, 80 S. Ct. 1437 (1960), including public school officials, New Jersey v. T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325, 336-337, 83 L. Ed. 2d 720, 105 S. Ct. 733 (1985). In Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn., 489 U.S. 602, 617, 103 L. Ed. 2d 639, 109 S. Ct. 1402 (1989), we held that state-compelled collection and testing of urine, such as that required by the Policy, constitutes a "search" subject to the demands of the Fourth Amendment. See also Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 665, 103 L. Ed. 2d 685, 109 S. Ct. 1384 (1989).

[2] [3]As the text of the Fourth Amendment indicates, the ultimate measure of the constitutionality of a governmental search is "reasonableness." At least in a case such as this, where there was no clear practice, either approving or disapproving the type of search at issue, at the time the constitutional provision was enacted, n1 whether a particular search meets the reasonableness standard "'is judged by balancing its intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against its promotion of legitimate governmental interests.'" Skinner, supra, at 619 (quoting Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660, 99 S. Ct. 1391 (1979)). Where a search is undertaken by law enforcement officials to discover evidence of criminal wrongdoing, this Court has said that reasonableness generally requires the obtaining of a judicial warrant, Skinner, supra, at 619. Warrants cannot be issued, of course, without the showing of probable cause required by the Warrant Clause. But a...

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1205 practice notes
  • Doe v. Heck, No. 01-3648.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2003
    ...takes place." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 337, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985); see also Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 654, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 Page 511 564 (1995) (noting that "[w]hat expectations are legitimate [under the Fourth Amendment] varies, of course,......
  • Pollard v. Georgetown Sch. Dist., Civil Action No. 14-cv-14043-DJC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • September 17, 2015
    ...close to rejecting it in a recent dictum." Hasenfus v. LaJeunesse , 175 F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir.1999) (citing Vernonia Sch. Dist. v. Acton , 515 U.S. 646, 655, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 L.Ed.2d 564 (1995) ); seeMorrow v. Balaski , 719 F.3d 160, 170 (3d Cir.2013) (en banc) (stating that "every other ......
  • Konopka v. Borough of Wyoming, No. CIV.A.3:03 CV 894.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • July 25, 2005
    ...the probable cause or warrant requirement would frustrate the very purpose for the government's search, Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 653, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 L.Ed.2d 564 (1995); New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 In the instant matter, ......
  • Legal Issues Relating To The Testing, USE, and Deployment of An Intrusion-Detection System (Einstein 2.0) To Protect Unclassified Computer Networks In The Executive Branch, 09-1
    • United States
    • Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice
    • January 9, 2009
    ...ability to collect information regarding intrusions and exploitations in a timely manner. See Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47Jv. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 653 (1995) (obtaining a warrant based upon probable cause is not a necessary element of reasonableness where such a requirement "would unduly interfer......
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1199 cases
  • Doe v. Heck, No. 01-3648.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2003
    ...place." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 337, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985); see also Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 654, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 Page 511 564 (1995) (noting that "[w]hat expectations are legitimate [under the Fourth Amendment] varies, of cou......
  • Pollard v. Georgetown Sch. Dist., Civil Action No. 14-cv-14043-DJC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • September 17, 2015
    ...to rejecting it in a recent dictum." Hasenfus v. LaJeunesse , 175 F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir.1999) (citing Vernonia Sch. Dist. v. Acton , 515 U.S. 646, 655, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 L.Ed.2d 564 (1995) ); seeMorrow v. Balaski , 719 F.3d 160, 170 (3d Cir.2013) (en banc) (stating that "every ot......
  • Konopka v. Borough of Wyoming, No. CIV.A.3:03 CV 894.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • July 25, 2005
    ...the probable cause or warrant requirement would frustrate the very purpose for the government's search, Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 653, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 L.Ed.2d 564 (1995); New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 In the instant matter, ......
  • Legal Issues Relating To The Testing, USE, and Deployment of An Intrusion-Detection System (Einstein 2.0) To Protect Unclassified Computer Networks In The Executive Branch, 09-1
    • United States
    • Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice
    • January 9, 2009
    ...ability to collect information regarding intrusions and exploitations in a timely manner. See Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47Jv. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 653 (1995) (obtaining a warrant based upon probable cause is not a necessary element of reasonableness where such a requirement "would unduly int......
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14 books & journal articles
  • SOCIAL NORMS IN FOURTH AMENDMENT LAW.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 2, November 2021
    • November 1, 2021
    ...understanding that the results of diagnostic tests will not be shared with nonmedical personnel), with Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646,648, 665 (1995) (holding that it was reasonable to require high school athletes to take random drug tests, in part because athletes were role......
  • The Broken Fourth Amendment Oath.
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    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 74 Nbr. 3, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...one purpose of this system is to "conserve valuable prosecutorial resources"); Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton ex rel. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 661 (1995) (noting that one factor in the Fourth Amendment analysis for drug testing is efficient law (120.) See J.M. Beattie, Crime and the......
  • THE ORIGINS AND LEGACY OF THE FOURTH AMENDMENT REASONABLENESS-BALANCING MODEL.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 71 Nbr. 1, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...criminal law enforcement"). (79.) King, 569 U.S. at 447 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 652 (80.) Id. at 448 (first quoting Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 300 (1999); and then quoting Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 33......
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    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 5, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...rights... at the schoolhouse gate." See, e.g., Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393, 397 (2007); Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 655-56 (252.) See DRIVER, supra note 33, at 155; see also Saphire, supra note 209, at 119-21 (explaining that process reinforces "respect fo......
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