Against Taking Liberties

1 04 2008

For those wondering why so many states are revolting against the ill considered REAL ID Act of 2005, please read South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Gov. Sanford, a conservative Republican in a solidly red state, made some of the cogent arguments I have read so far by a politician on why the law is terribly impractical, unfair, and a disastrous violation of each American’s civil liberties.

Under the law, all state issued drivers’ licenses must include a set of standardized information, including digitized photographs and signatures. More controversially, it also mandates the verification of an applicant’s immigration status, background checks on documents used to prove identity, and the creation of a large inter-state database of license records. March 31st was the last day in which states could apply for a waiver to comply with REAL ID standards. After May 11th of this year, those from noncompliant states risk may be denied entry into federal buildings.

Besides South Carolina other states that chose to opt out of the waiver include Maine and New Hampshire. But Gov. Schweitzer of Montana was the most unequivocal. He made it explicitly clear that his state was not going to comply with the REAL ID Act. DHS responded by providing the Treasure state with an extension anyhow.

Go figure.

In his letter, Gov. Sanford cited a number of reasons why the REAL ID Act was illegitimate, including not being properly vetted by Congress. This is certainly true given how the Bush administration attached law to a military spending bill and then rammed it through a Republican controlled House and Senate in 2005. In fact, Sanford’s letter rightly points out that the REAL ID Act “received far less debate than the steroid use in baseball.”

A direct consequence passing the poorly conceived measure that created a de facto national ID card was an unrealistic expectation that states would shoulder the vast majority of the costs. The federal government tried to pass on 98 percent of the $23 billion needed to implement it to the states, according to the letter.

But with a contracting economy, a national housing crisis, a $12 billion per month wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a $9.4 trillion national debt, it is not only unfair for cash strapped states to assume such financial burden in something they were no consulted on, but also impractical considering all the other competing priorities they have to contend with.

Pressuring hurricane prone states like South Carolina to comply with the measure by “taking money away from existing grants” needed to prepare for hurricane season in order to implement the REAL ID Act is a recipe for disaster, Sanford said. Any reasonable person could understand the governor’s concern given DHS performance during Hurricane Katrina.

One of the more stirring passages of the letter coupled a compelling states rights argument with a strong rebuke against the law for inhibiting the free exercise of the civil liberties of the individual. “REAL ID upsets the balance of power between the federal government and the states by coercing the states into creating a national ID system for federal purposes.”

As many immigrant rights and civil liberties advocates have already done, Sanford also criticized DHS for expanding the scope of its power by declaring it could use the data it collects for any “official purpose,” it deems fit, as it did in its final comments on the rule.

This point against the infringement of individual civil liberties was most emphatically made when Sanford said, “The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to assemble and petition their government, and in it there has never been a qualification that said, “Only if you have a REAL ID card.” On this, I think it would be best to let the Founding Fathers original work stand.”

Additionally, the law may even introduce more problems than it does solutions by requiring a centralized database. Again as Sanford points out, “Over the past three years, security breaches, misplaced or stolen equipment, or simple carelessness at the federal government level have exposed the personal information of as many as 40 million Americans to falling into the wrong hands.”

Recent passport security breaches of even sitting members of Congress currently running for president by government contract workers also provide no solace to an already skeptical public.

DHS blinked again by providing South Carolina with another extension.

Update:  DHS gave Maine an extension until 2010 in exchange for more secure drivers licenses. This means residents from the state of Maine are now free to continuing using their drivers ID to board airplanes and enter federal buildings. 




3 responses

2 04 2008

Believe it or not, this one wasn’t Bush’s idea. He had signed an ID law in late 2004 that almost everyone thought was fine . . . except for Jim Sensenbrenner, who was great on voting rights in the 109th, but not so much on anything immigration-related those couple of years.

Sensenbrenner protested the 2004 law for being too weak, and got Hastert and DeLay to promise they’d ram the bill through in early 2005. I suspect that the administration didn’t like REAL ID (it didn’t issue a SAP until pretty late in the game), but felt pressured to go along with it anyway.

2 04 2008

Rob, you are right I should have mentioned that it was the Republican Congressional leadership in 2005 that really pushed it through Congress.

3 04 2008

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: