Schoolhouse Gates or Floodgates? A Study of Fourth Amendment Drug Testing Jurisprudence In American Public Schools
Reynolds, Kyle P.
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To speak of a constitution is to simultaneously impart two meanings upon a single word. In one sense, the hallowed American Constitution hangs on display in the National Archives, tattered and yellowed by age, resplendent with the baroque script of the nation's patriarchs. Elementary civics students and distinguished legal scholars alike recite its clauses and the merits of its enshrined ideals. However, another sense of the word "constitution" looms heavily over the United States -one with political and moral timbres that resonate off every quaint village street, through opulent mansions and ramshackle trailers, across the rich, open plains from ocean to ocean. This constitution hangs suspended in the American air like an ambient, diaphanous mist; no citizen fails to breathe in and out its ever-present but seldom-tangible vapors. Though the precepts of the US. Constitution may permeate the nation's social and political life, they are far more relevant in certain contexts than in others. In the Oval Office, for instance, or on the floor of Congress, the document's effects are palpable, ubiquitous, filling the minds of everyone present. The average citizen, however, may be scarcely cognizant of the constitution's concrete effects at all, despite the fact that she may exercise her various rights on a daily basis. Ostensibly, the core legal principles on which the U.S. government was founded have a certain, predetermined amount of relevance in different scenarios, and the federal courts serve to dispatch those rare instances in which the constitution fails to offer crystalline clarity on a particular issue. This conception, however, is not reality -the constitution remains ambiguous on innumerable facets of political involvement in social life. One salient area of haziness is the jurisprudence surrounding public schools. With respect to the Fourth Amendment, American public schools comprise a sort of constitutional "no man's land." The students are not afforded the full rights of adult citizens in a free society; teachers and administrators wield a power that vacillates between that of a concerned mentor and that of a legal authority. The association between the faculty and the student body therefore falls somewhere in the ample gray area between the unique relationship of parents to children and that of police to citizens. This uncertainty, along with a host of other factors, has led to the gradual erosion by the federal judiciary of public school students' Fourth Amendment rights, especially with respect to drug testing. These factors include, inter alia, recent broader trends in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, the ideological composition of the United States Supreme Court, deep shifts in court culture, and public perceptions of various sociopolitical cataclysms. Examples of these cataclysmic events shaping public opinion are the constellation of school shootings in the 1990s, the putative drug crisis, and the fallout of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. There seems to be no reason to suspect that these trends will slow or subside completely -in fact, a much likelier consequence would be the continual chipping away of students' rights. With this undermining of rights comes the obvious and dangerous potential for truncation of Fourth Amendment rights beyond the realm of public schools. This inquiry will be divided into four sections. The first and most extensive section will comprehensively chronicle the steady weakening of students' rights against invasive drug testing on behalf of the school district. Following this, a number of reasons will be proffered for this reduction in legal protection. It will then make predictions and draw logical conclusion based on the history of. and reasons for, the diminution of rights. The final section will provide some legal prescriptions and potential remedies for this slippery constitutional slope.