U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan's ruling ends a six-year lawsuit brought by six applicants who failed polygraph tests and were denied jobs. They said the policy violated their rights to privacy and due process.
The Secret Service has required polygraph tests for potential agents since 1985. All FBI employees have been tested since 1994.
Applicants are asked questions about their medical histories, finances, sex lives, drug use and mental health. Secret Service applicants are asked whether they have committed adultery or other sex crimes.
While those questions are personal, Sullivan said, they're not an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Because the applicants sought positions of public trust, the agencies have the right to inquire about the backgrounds of their agents, he said.
"With regard to the Secret Service's specific questions, the agency has made a reasonable determination that there is a danger if its employees in sensitive positions could be blackmailed for some reason," Sullivan wrote. "The court will not second-guess that conclusion."
Four of the six applicants who brought the case probably were turned down based on their answers to drug-related questions, according to court documents. All denied using drugs.
"Three people know you're lying: me, you and God," a Secret Service polygraph agent said to one applicant, according to court documents.
"No, God and I know I'm telling the truth," the applicant, Eileen Moynahan replied.
A fifth applicant was denied because she had lied about marijuana use on a Baltimore police application, prosecutors said. The sixth applicant was accused of holding his breath to try to beat the polygraph.
The lawsuit claimed the tests are unreliable, yet there is no way for applicants to clear their name. They said the stigma attached to failing the test would prevent them from getting other law enforcement jobs.
Sullivan denied that claim, noting that some of the applicants who brought the lawsuit now work in federal law enforcement jobs.
"Ultimately this will be an issue for the Supreme Court or Congress to take care of," attorney Mark Zaid said.