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Appellate court upholds federal driver's records act

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Appellate court upholds federal driver's records act 12/14/98 TENTH CIRCUIT--A federal appeals court in Denver found in early December that…

Appellate court upholds federal driver’s records act

12/14/98

TENTH CIRCUIT–A federal appeals court in Denver found in early December that the U.S. Congress did not violate the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when it enacted the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.

The state of Oklahoma had sued the United States, arguing that the Tenth Amendment does not allow the federal government to infringe upon state regulatory programs.

The panel reversed a September 1997 decision of the federal District Court in Oklahoma City that Congress could not supplant Oklahoma law governing public access to driver information by coercing the state to adopt the federal law instead.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act limits the states’ authority to grant public access to personal information contained in state motor vehicle records. Congress enacted the law in 1994 to become effective in 1997. It requires states to restrict access to personal information in driver records or face imposition of a $5,000 per day fine. However, it permits the states to release personal information if they allow individuals to “opt out” of having their own personal information made public.

The unanimous decision by the appeals panel creates a split in circuit court decisions that may have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In September, the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., ruled in a case brought by the attorney general of South Carolina that the law is an unconstitutional infringement on state sovereignty. In that case the South Carolina attorney general in September 1997 had successfully obtained a permanent injunction against enforcement of the act by the federal government.

A federal District Court in Montgomery, Ala., ruled in mid-March that the act does not violate the Tenth Amendment, but another federal district court in Madison, Wis., ruled in June that it does. (Oklahoma v. United States; Counsel for Oklahoma: Assistant Attorney General James Robert Johnson)