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Another federal judge finds driver's records act unconstitutional

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  1. Freedom of Information
WISCONSIN--Following the lead of federal courts in South Carolina and Oklahoma, a federal District Court judge in Wisconsin declared the…

WISCONSIN–Following the lead of federal courts in South Carolina and Oklahoma, a federal District Court judge in Wisconsin declared the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act unconstitutional in mid-June. A federal District Court in Alabama found the Act constitutional in mid- March.

Judge Barbara Crabb told the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles it is not required to enforce the federal law. She described that law as prohibiting disclosure of “personal information” collected by motor vehicle departments in connection with automobile and driver’s license registrations.

She said that the act forces state officials to administer and enforce a federally enacted regulatory program in violation of the Tenth Amendment, which provides that powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Opponents of the act have argued that the federal government usurps states’ power by enacting the law and forcing the states to enforce the provisions.

Then-State Sen. Lynn Adelman of Milwaukee sued U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to block enforcement of the act in Wisconsin, but abandoned the case when he was named a federal judge.

Four other State Representatives and a State Senator then took over the suit along with David Zweifel, editor of The Capital Times in Madison and chairman of the private Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, and Pamela Moorshead, a criminal defense attorney whose clients are charged with criminal and traffic violations.

After the lawsuit was filed, The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison reported that Madison resident Louis Kent Ostrom was arrested for drunk driving and destruction of property while he was on his way to court for an earlier charge of drunk-driving. Reporters asked for information on his punishment for the first charge.

The Division of Motor Vehicles said it could not provide that information because of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. DMV Administrator Roger Cross and the DMV itself then joined the suit to prevent enforcement of the act.

Although the judge questioned whether the newsmen or the legislators had any right to sue, she said Cross and the DMV could sue because the statute compelled the DMV to develop a form to determine who can get information from DMV records, train employees, monitor compliance with the act, send forms to individuals on request, review their responses and answer questions about the forms. She noted that no federal money was made available to implement the law.

The Justice Department argued that personal privacy safeguards in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave Congress authority to enact the provisions. But Judge Crabb said that, even assuming that there is a constitutional right to privacy in the nondisclosure of private information held by the government, there is no expectation of privacy in the driver information addressed in the Act. (Travis v. Reno; Media Counsel: Jon Deitrich, Milwaukee)