The Supreme Court weighed states’ rights vs. motorists’ privacy yesterday in a debate over whether Congress properly banned states from selling the personal information appearing on drivers’ licenses.
The case, Reno vs. Condon, involves South Carolina’s constitutional challenge to the Driver’s Data Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which restricts disclosure of personal information from state motor vehicle records.
South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon challenged the DPPA’s constitutionality just before the law took effect in 1997, saying it violates the Tenth Amendment. Basically, his argument is that the DPPA is difficult to administer because it contains 14 exceptions that permit the selling of personal information.
Last month, President Clinton signed a new law mandating that states require drivers to give specific permission before their drivers’ licenses or motor vehicle registration data is released by state motor vehicle departments for any purpose except law enforcement.
DMers are watching the case because its outcome may affect whether Congress has the constitutional authority to make states comply with the law. If states don’t have to comply, they may not have to follow Congress’ opt-in mandate on driver data. The Supreme Court may not announce its ruling on the case until June.
According to published reports, the justices questioned both sides carefully about the DPPA, but Condon contended that that case isn’t an issue of motorists’ privacy but of state workers being “unconstitutionally pressed into federal service to enforce federal law.”
Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the DMA, said the debate was basically about states’ rights issues.
“From our perspective, we are not sure where the court’s going to go,” he said. “We thought the federal government made strong arguments, but we also know the Supreme Court has taken a position supporting states’ rights and states’ rights specifically under the Tenth Amendment.”
The Supreme Court will review at least one other case this term surrounding privacy and the sale of personal information.