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DHS Backs Off Again in Real ID Showdown

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March 28, 2008

Last week, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath sent a letter (PDF) to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff that touted the super security features on the state’s drivers’ licenses, and said that state residents should not be barred from boarding planes or entering federal buildings, as DHS has threatened, if the state doesn’t comply with the Real ID Act.

Was McGrath’s letter in some strange foreign language that Chertoff didn’t understand? No, but that didn’t stop DHS from interpreting the letter as a request for an extension of the state’s compliance with the Real ID act, even though the state passed a statute last year that said it would never comply with Real ID.

Yesterday New Hampshire Governor John Lynch received notice from DHS that the state had been granted an extension for Real ID compliance, even though, like Montana, it didn’t ask for one and has also passed a state law prohibiting enactment of the Real ID Act.

Maine has sent a Montana-style letter to DHS; South Carolina hasn’t done anything yet. Both states have refused to comply with Real ID. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is now under pressure to act. Jim Harper of the Cato Institute urges Sanford to stand up to DHS in an op-ed in Charleston’s Post and Courier.

In addition to protecting their citizens’ rights, these governors are also making an invaluable point with their actions: That DHS is more about giving the appearance of security over real security. This multibillion-dollar law was attached as a rider to a military spending and tsunami relief bill that was hastily passed through Congress in 2005; it never received real Congressional oversight or debate. It’s time Congress asserted its authority, stepped in, and scrapped Real ID once and for all.

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