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Yes, the States Really Reject Real ID

Allie Bohm,
Policy Counsel,
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March 27, 2012

Remember that time when Congress passed a law that tried to create a national database of drivers’ information and turn drivers’ licenses into national identification cards? And remember how groups from across the political spectrum joined forces to tell Congress, the president, and their state lawmakers that they objected to this law, known as Real ID, calling it an unfunded mandate that trampled on states’ rights, decrying its lack of sufficient protections and potential to increase racial discrimination, worrying about its negative impact on the Amish and other religious denominations, fretting that it would create an expansive and cumbersome new bureaucracy or facilitate the tracking of individuals? Opposition to Real ID united everyone from the National Governors Association to the ACLU to the American Conservative Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and National Organization for Women to Gun Owners of America, to name a few.

If you’ve been fishing in your pocket trying to find your national ID card, stop. Twenty-five states, either through statute or legislative resolution, rejected the act or said they would not comply with Real ID, and 15 states have laws prohibiting compliance with Real ID. Since the federal government’s only recourse under the statute would be to bar citizens of those states from using their drivers’ licenses to enter federal buildings or board airplanes, which would bring air travel to a grinding halt, Real ID implementation has been delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security, in whose jurisdiction Real ID falls, only has four full-time staffers working on its implementation. Not really an effective way to make it happen.

But, apparently, Congress hasn’t quite gotten the memo that Real ID is effectively dead. On Wednesday, March 21, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing on Real ID. And, it turns out that the states weren’t kidding when they passed those laws. In fact, they still oppose Real ID. A representative sample of legislators from Washington, Montana, Oklahoma and Louisiana, including the chair and vice-chair of the Washington House Transportation Committee, as well as Montana’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, sent statements to the committee. To give you a flavor, here’s a piece of what Gov. Schweitzer wrote:

Montana will not agree to share its citizens’ personal and private information through a national database, nor bear the exorbitant cost building such a database. Furthermore, the Act tramples on our state’s right to determine our own licensing procedures and protocols, and would interfere with our state’s work to improve drivers’ license security.

Montana is in no mood at all for another heavy-handed play by the federal government, such as what transpired in 2008 when the homeland security director threatened to prevent Montanans from boarding an airplane unless we complied with the REAL ID act. We refused, and will refuse again.

While folks in Washington may have believed they knew what was best for Montana when they created the REAL ID Act, in fact, Montanan’s have little use for this unpopular, unfunded, and completely unfeasible mandate. The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security should use today’s hearing to begin the process of repealing the REAL ID Act.

Perhaps “folks in Washington” are finally starting to listen to the states. My colleague, Chris Calabrese, who attended the hearing, reported that the room “had the atmosphere of a funeral home” or a wake for a law ready for burial.

UPDATE: This blog post has been updated to reflect that Oklahoma state representative Paul Wesselhoft has joined the list of state lawmakers submitting letters to Congress reiterating their opposition to Real ID.

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