Back in January, we reported about a friend-of-the-court brief we filed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, when we teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
The issue involved Fourth Amendment protections during Child Protective Services investigations. In a case HSLDA worked on in 2005, the intermediate appellate court had ruled that CPS investigators are subject to the Fourth Amendment when they seek to enter a family’s home.
This new case began, as these cases often do, with three anonymous reports. The anonymous reports included an allegation that the dad had appeared “out of it” or possibly under the influence, but only one said his child was present at the time of the incident. In addition to wanting to search his home, the CPS investigator wanted the dad to submit to drug testing by providing an “observed urine sample.”
It Happened During an Election
The dad in this case is a lawyer. He had announced he was running for district attorney. We have no way to know if the anonymous reports that led to the investigation were related to his campaign for public office, but you can color me suspicious. (He is now the elected district attorney of his county in western Pennsylvania).
Being a lawyer, he knew his rights and was not shy about asserting them. So, he declined both home inspection and urine sample.
He lost at trial. Knowing well how to appeal, he won both issues at the intermediate appellate court, which relied heavily on HSLDA’s 2005 case. Funny thing, the county attorney representing CPS also knew how to appeal. He asked the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to review the case, which it does not have to do but nevertheless agreed to.
But the supreme court only agreed to consider whether the demand for a urine sample was lawful.
Calling for Reform
I learned about the case while on a conference call with a broad, bipartisan coalition of lawyers and activists who agree that CPS reform is needed. We share the belief that CPS serves a vital function, but that, as currently constituted, it can harm children more than it helps. The reforms we advocate would allow CPS investigators to concentrate their efforts where most needed, which would, in turn, protect many children from the trauma of unnecessary investigations.
Because the new case had the potential of unraveling the legal rule established by the case HSLDA won in 2005, our ally in Philadelphia put me in touch with the ACLU, who had already begun to write an amicus brief. The ACLU graciously allowed HSLDA to join their brief urging the Supreme Court to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of families during CPS investigations.
On June 15, 2020, the supreme court ruled in favor of the dad. It noted in its opinion that HSLDA, together with the ACLU, had made constitutional arguments. To avoid addressing complex constitutional issues, the court held that CPS simply had no statutory authority to demand urine samples—ever.
Guarding the Home
Because homeschoolers tend to homeschool in—wait for it—their homes, HSLDA has long been involved in cases protecting their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. When this Pennsylvania Supreme Court case popped up, we participated to preserve the freedom we had won in 2005.
We are grateful to the ACLU of Pennsylvania for allowing us to join the brief, and to you, our members, donors, and supporters, for your prayers. We know that, without you, we could not do what we do.