ADC Challenges MN Driver’s License Restrictions
Washington, DC — Yesterday, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) joined the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, the Jewish Community Action, the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, the Somali Community of Minnesota, and a group of individual citizens and non-citizens in filing a Petition for Declaratory Judgment with the Minnesota Court of Appeals challenging new driver’s license restrictions requiring proof of citizenship or “lawful presence” in order to obtain a driver’s license in Minnesota.
After the Minnesota Legislature considered and rejected new restrictions for driver’s licenses, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner sought permission from the Office of Administrative Hearings to adopt an emergency rule – without a hearing or public comment – requiring individuals to present documents as proof of permanent U.S. resident status, lawful short-term admission to the country or U.S. citizenship upon application for, and renewal of a Minnesota driver’s license, permit or state identification card. The Commissioner also requested that the new rule tie the license expiration date to the expiration of the Visa or other short-term admission document, deny licenses to individuals whose Visa would expire within 60 days, and eliminate a religious exemption to obtain a license without a photograph.
Administrative Law Judge George Beck denied the Commissioner’s request, finding that the Commissioner failed to establish that an immediate threat to public safety necessitated the extraordinary process of dispensing with the ordinary rulemaking process, which includes public participation and a hearing. Chief Administrative Law Judge Nikolai reversed Judge Beck’s decision and the exempt rulemaking process requested by the Commissioner was granted on June 21, 2002. Judge Nikolai refused to allow the license expiration date to be linked to an individual’s Visa expiration; however, he allowed the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to note the Visa expiration on the face of the driver’s license, thereby distinguishing those licenses as belonging to non-citizens. The new Minnesota rule went into effect on July 8, 2002.
In the Petition, ADC and the other petitioners argue that the rule is unconstitutional because it singles out non-citizens for different treatment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment; the rule is pre-empted by Federal Immigration laws; the rule conflicts with and exceeds the powers granted under the driver’s license statute; and the use of exempt rulemaking was unwarranted and a denial of due process.
The purpose of a driver’s license is to ensure that the individual is a qualified driver. It was never intended to be a tool for enforcing immigration laws. Police do not have the authority to detain individuals simply because the individuals are suspected to have violated the provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. While the State has a legitimate interest in ensuring that individuals who apply for a driver’s license or identification card are who they say they are, one’s immigration status bears no rational relationship to whether one is qualified to drive or is committing identity fraud. Knowing whether an individual is an immigrant does not provide any information that would enhance the function of public safety offices because local police lack the authority to enforce immigration violations. Citizens and non-citizens alike should not be required to carry identification papers in order to move around the state.