Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Ass'n

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Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 2, 1988
Decided March 21, 1989
Full case name Samuel K. Skinner, Secretary of Transportation, et al.
Railway Labor Executives' Association, et al.
Citations 489 U.S. 602 (more)
The Fourth Amendment is applicable to the drug and alcohol testing mandated or authorized by the FRA regulations.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Case opinions
Majority Kennedy, joined by Rehnquist, White, Blackmun, O'Connor, Scalia
Concurrence Stevens
Dissent Marshall, joined by Brennan

Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989), was the U.S. Supreme Court case that paved the way for random drug testing of public employees in "safety sensitive" positions.


In the mid-1980s, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued regulations to adopt safety standards for the railroad industry. Included in these regulations was mandatory blood and urine tests of employees involved in train accidents, to determine if they were using illegal narcotics. The FRA also adopted regulations that authorized railroads to administer breath and urine drug tests to employees who violated safety rules. The Railway Labor Executives' Association, an umbrella group of railway trade unions, sued to have the regulations declared an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


At face value, random drug testing appears to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects the right of citizens "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." In addition, the Fourth Amendment states that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." However, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Skinner that random drug testing is permissible for employees in safety sensitive positions. Justice Kennedy, speaking for the majority, wrote:

The dissenting opinion by Justices Marshall and Brennan illustrates the other side of the controversy:

Special Needs Doctrine[edit]

The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) has used this ruling to expand the "special needs doctrine" that carves out an exception to the Fourth Amendment for the broad collection and examination of Americans' data to track possible terrorists.[1]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Christopher, Thomas H. (1991). "Employee drug testing: A constitutional perspective". Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal. 4 (4): 311–328. doi:10.1007/BF01385035. 
  • Comer, Debra R. (1994). "A Case against Workplace Drug Testing". Organization Science. INFORMS. 5 (2): 259–267. doi:10.1287/orsc.5.2.259. JSTOR 2635019. 


  1. ^ Lichtenblau, Eric (6 July 2013). "In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2013.