Feature: SSDP, ACLU Seek Permanent Injunction in HEA Lawsuit, Education Department Moves to Dismiss 6/2/06

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!


http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/438/injunctionsought.shtml

A student group that filed suit seeking to declare the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision unconstitutional moved last Friday to win a preliminary injunction barring the Department of Education (DOE) from enforcing it until the case is resolved. If issued this month, such an injunction would open the way for thousands of potential students barred from receiving financial aid under the provision to submit their federal student financial aid forms (FAFSAs) in time for the coming academic year.

That same day, the department fought back, filing a motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit filed by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, three named students, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Drug Policy Reform Project. In a preview of its legal strategy, the department argued that "the challenged statute is constitutional."

The lawsuit, SSDP v. Spellings, targets DOE Secretary Margaret Spellings because it is the department that enforces the HEA drug provision. Authored in 1998 by one of Capitol Hill's most resolute drug warriors, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the provision denies federal title IV financial aid for specified periods to students convicted of drug offenses, no matter how trivial. Since the law went into effect, more than 180,000 students have been denied financial aid because they had a drug offense.

Under rising pressure from educators, financial aid administrators, civil libertarians and civil rights groups, students, and drug reform groups like SSDP organized into the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, Souder moved last year to block outright repeal of the law. He shepherded through Congress a "partial fix" that limits the provision to students whose offenses occurred while they were receiving financial aid. That change goes into effect this summer.

But a partial fix was not good enough for SSDP and the ACLU. After seeking and finding students to act as plaintiffs, the groups filed suit in US District Court in the Northern Division of South Dakota in March. Though not a party to the lawsuit, the John W. Perry Fund, a scholarship program created by DRCNet Foundation that assists students losing their financial aid because of drug convictions, played a key role in the effort -- two of the three student plaintiffs were located by DRCNet as a result of their contacting the Fund last year.

Kraig Selken of Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, is one of them. Selken was arrested for simple marijuana possession last October after police found a joint in the home he shared with two other students. He did three days in jail with 57 days suspended if he sought treatment. Under the HEA drug provision, students can have their federal aid reinstated if they attend a treatment program that includes random drug tests, but Selken's program didn't offer that and the court didn't order it, so he is out of luck on keeping his student loan.

Now, the legal sparring over the law keeping Selken from his studies is getting underway. "As usual, the federal government wants to silence students' voices and prevent us from challenging drug war policies that hurt our generation," said SSDP executive director Kris Krane. "We will have our day in court, we will win, and we will make sure that no student ever again has to worry about losing his or her access to education because of a minor drug conviction."

"The Department of Education wants the lawsuit to go away," concurred Adam Wolf, the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project attorney trying the case. "They don't want any dialogue about the aid elimination penalty in the HEA or its harmful effects. But our opposing argument shows our claims are meritorious and the court should strike down the law as unconstitutional."

The lawsuit argues that the HEA drug provision unconstitutionally punishes people twice for the same offense, violating the double jeopardy clause of the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment. They also charge the penalty irrationally designates a class of people, low- to middle-income students with drug convictions, as unworthy of educational aid, violating the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

The groups don't want to let another academic year slide by before blocking the law, thus the motion for a preliminary injunction and the call for a quick ruling, said SSDP campaigns director Tom Angell. "We want to make sure the Department of Education doesn't ruin the academic careers of any more students while this case moves forward," Angell said.

"The same day the government filed its motion to dismiss, we filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief and asked the court to rule expeditiously," said Wolf. "By filing the motion when we did, we will ensure that the briefs are all before the court prior to the deadline for students to fill out their FAFSAs for the coming academic year. The deadline for that is the end of June. We're hoping the court will rule quickly and restore people's ability to receive student aid and continue their education."

-- END --
Link to Drug War Facts
Please make a generous donation to support Drug War Chronicle in 2007!          

PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Issue #438 -- 6/2/06

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!

Editorial: We Should Have Such Problems | Book Offer: Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went up in Smoke | Feature: Salvia Under Siege -- Movement to Ban Herbal Hallucinogen Gains Momentum in Statehouses | Feature: SSDP, ACLU Seek Permanent Injunction in HEA Lawsuit, Education Department Moves to Dismiss | Feature: Drug Reformers Take the Third Party Path in Bids for Statewide Office | Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle? | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Law Enforcement: Federal Drug Prosecutions Declined for Past Five Years | Medical Marijuana: South Dakota Initiative Makes the November Ballot | Harm Reduction: ACLU Wins Victory in Connecticut Needle Exchange Case | Latin America: Mexican Leftist Candidate Calls for More Army in Drug War | Latin America: US Drug War Ally Reelected in Colombia, But Leftist Legalization Advocate Places Second | Latin America: As Venezuela and Bolivia Draw Nearer, Chavez Ponies Up $1 Million for Coca Factories, Research | Europe: Dutch Mayor to Move Coffee Shops to Belgian Border | Web Scan: New Change the Climate Online TV Ad, Journey for Justice Daily Journal, Psychedelics and Medicine, Convict Nation | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
Chronicle archives
Subscribe now!
Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en EspaŮol Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em PortuguÍs Latest News Drug Library Search
special friends links: SSDP - Flex Your Rights - IAL - Drug War Facts

StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20009 Phone (202) 293-8340 Fax (202) 293-8344 [email protected]