Vernonia v. Acton (1995)

In 1991, seventh grader James Acton challenged the drug-testing program initiated by his school in Vernonia , Oregon . The program required students to provide a urine sample for drug testing before they could participate in athletics, and afterwards do so on a random basis.  Acton and his parents maintained that this kind of testing, without any suspicion that the individual being tested had done anything wrong, was a violation of a student's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.     

The Actons lost their case in the district court, but won in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The school district then appealed to the Supreme Court. By the time the case was heard, nearly five years after the drug-testing program was initiated, there had been no more than two or three positive urine test results – which didn't seem to indicate that there was a major drug program in the small town.     

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the students' Fourth Amendment rights were outweighed by the school's interest in fighting drugs.  The court said that since student athletes shower and change clothes in front of each other, urine testing wasn't a big invasion of privacy.  And because athletes served as "role models" for the student community, it was important for them to be drug free.     

An important dissent was written by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She expressed her concern that the court had thrown out the Fourth Amendment by doing away with the requirement that there had to be "individualised suspicion" – the suspicion that an individual had done something wrong – in order to search that person.     

The Supreme Court ruling opened the door for schools to institute drug-testing programs for after school sports programs. 

Listen to the oral arguments: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1994/1994_94_590
Read the decision: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=515&invol=646