Ferguson v. City of Charleston

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  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Public Benefits and Poverty
  • Rights of Pregnant Women
  • Child Abuse
  • Racial Justice
  • Authored Amicus Brief
2001

Determined the Constitutionality of a South Carolina policy that allowed warrantless and nonconsensual drug testing of women seeking prenatal treatment at a Charleston public hospital.

Summary of the Case

The Petitioners in this case tested positive for cocaine use. Nine of them (all of whom were African-American) were arrested for cocaine possession, distribution of cocaine to a minor or child abuse. The tenth woman was compelled to admit herself "voluntarily" to a substance abuse treatment program in order to avoid arrest.  Petitioners filed suit in 1993 claiming, among other things, that the drug testing policy, developed by hospital doctors with police and local prosecutors, sanctioned warrantless searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which provides all Americans with protection from unreasonable searches. After a six-week trial, a jury found against petitioners on the Fourth Amendment claim, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Our Role in the Case

After the U.S. Supreme Court granted review, Legal Momentum, with co-counsel the American Civil Liberties Union, filed an amicus brief in support of petitioners. The brief was joined by leading women's rights and other groups, and argued that the hospital policy threatened pregnant women's privacy rights.

Decision

In 2001, the Supreme Court held that the hospital's drug testing scheme was in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment and affirmed the right to confidential medical care.