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Vernonia, Oregon, is a small community of about 3,000 people with a student population of 690 students. In this small logging community, most of the students participated in school athletics and school athletic programs are a major focus of the community. Between 1985 and 1989, the teachers and administrators of Vernonia School District became concerned about what they observed to be a dramatic increase in the use of illegal drugs among the students, many of them student athletes. The increase in drug use corresponded with an increase in student disciplinary problems. Many student athletes openly bragged about using drugs.
Prior to 1989, administrators instituted drug education programs and used drug-sniffing dogs to combat the escalating drug problem. These measures did not work. Thus, in 1989, the administration adopted a policy that required all students who participated in interscholastic athletics to take a drug test at the beginning of the athletic season and at random times throughout the season. The urine of athletes was tested strictly for the presence of drugs. The type of test used is considered 99.94% accurate. The results were kept confidential and were strictly used by the school. Those athletes who tested positive for drugs had to participate in a drug-counseling program for six weeks. They also had to agree to weekly drug testing or face being suspended from the team for the current season and all following seasons. If a student refused to be tested, the student was suspended from inner scholastic athletics for the season.
After the policy went into effect, disciplinary complaints dropped by 50%. Teachers saw a drop in the use of drugs among their students and saw approval for drug use also drop.
James Acton was in seventh grade during the 1991-1992 school year and wanted to play football. However, he and his parents refused to sign the consent form for the drug testing. In accordance with the school policy, he was suspended from interscholastic athletics. The Actons brought a suit against the school in the federal district court, claiming that the school's policy violated James' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Actons lost in district court and then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. They won in the Ninth Circuit. The School district then asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case:
Justice Scalia's Views:
Justice O'Connor's Views:
Justice Scalia was writing for the majority in this case. Four other judges in this 6-3 decision joined him. They were Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Thomas. Judge O'Connor wrote the minority, or dissenting, opinion and was joined by Justices Stevens and Souter. The Court held as follows:
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