National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab

PETITIONER:National Treasury Employees Union
LOCATION:National Treasury Employees Union

DOCKET NO.: 86-1879
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 489 US 656 (1989)
ARGUED: Nov 02, 1988
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1989

Charles Fried – on behalf of the Respondent
Lois G. Williams – on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1986, the United States Customs Service implemented a drug testing program for certain employees who either carry firearms, are involved in intercepting drugs as they enter the country, or are in high level positions involving classified information.


Did the regulations violate the Fourth Amendment?

Media for National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 02, 1988 in National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 21, 1989 in National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Second of these two cases is National Treasury Employees Union versus Van Raab.

Here, the facts are considerably different.

The United States Custom Service, whose primary task is to interdict and seize illegal drugs that are smuggled into this country, has implemented a drug testing program which applies to all employees seeking transfer or promotion to three kinds of jobs.

Those directly involved in drug interdiction, those requiring the handling of firearms, and those who are the employee would be handling classified material.

Petitioner, Federal Employee’s Union and one of its officials filed sued on behalf of affected employees in the service claiming, among other things, that the testing program violates the Fourth Amendment.

The District Court agreed and enjoined with the program.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the injunction and upheld the testing program holding that though the program involved searches within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, those searches are reasonable in light of their limited scope and a strong answer was asserted by the Custom’s Service.

In an opinion filed today, we affirm the judgment below in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

We uphold the testing program as it applies to employees directly involved in drug interdiction and those who handle firearms.

We vacate and remand for further consideration of the testing of employees who handle classified material.

As in the Skinner case involving railroad employees, we find that the testing program here does affect searches under the Fourth Amendment.

Nonetheless, it has special needs of present beyond the ordinary needs of law enforcement.

We must balance the public interest served by the program against the privacy concerns of the affected individuals to determine whether a warrant or some level of individualized suspicion is required in order to uphold the constitutionality of the program.

We conclude that a warrant is not required in this case.

It would only serve to divert valuable resources from the Custom Service’s primary mission and it would provide little or no added protection to employees, given the narrow and specific limits on the testing program.

We also conclude that testing is reasonable even without probable cause or individual suspicion for those employees in positions directly involved in drug addiction, and for those employees who are required to carry firearms.

The government’s compelling interests in protecting the promotion of drug users to positions where they might endanger the integrity of our nation’s boarders or the life of the citizenry outweigh the privacy interest of those who seek promotion to these positions.

We enjoy a special and diminished expectation of privacy by virtue of the obvious physical and ethical demands of their positions.

The record before the Court is inadequate, however, to allow us to determine whether it is reasonable for the Custom Service to test employees who would be handling classified information.

We remand this issue to the Court of Appeals for further consideration.

The Court of Appeals should consider whether this aspect of the program is constitutional and might of the employees who are tested under this rationale.

The privacy expectations of those employees, and the material that is considered classified for these purposes.

Justice Marshall dissents in an opinion joined by Justice Brennan.

Justice Scalia also dissents in a separate opinion, joined by Justice Stevens.