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Clinton administration requests delay in driver’s privacy litigation

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Freedom of Information         Oct 26, 1999    

Clinton administration requests delay in driver’s privacy litigation

  • Citing a new federal law that restricts release of driver information, the solicitor general has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to postpone arguments in a pending challenge to pre-existing driver’s privacy legislation.

Because a new federal law will further prevent states from releasing driver information, the Clinton administration is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to delay hearing arguments challenging the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act that are scheduled for mid-November. The Solicitor General of the United States, Seth Waxman, filed a brief with the Court in late October that argues the Court need not review the DPPA at all, or at least not until the new law is operational. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the DPPA challenge on Nov. 10.

In early October, President Clinton signed into law a measure, part of the annual Department of Transportation’s appropriations act, that tries to achieve the same result as the DPPA — outlaw the release of driver information by states — but under a different constitutional provision.

The new DOT measure, which would require states receiving federal money for highways to refrain from disclosing driver information, was passed by Congress under its spending power. Congress, however, relied on its ability to regulate interstate commerce and its power to protect fundamental rights when it passed the DPPA in 1994.

South Carolina is challenging the DPPA on grounds that it violates state sovereignty rights under the Tenth Amendment. The Court generally has given Congress more leeway to regulate states under its spending power, however, by allowing it to impose conditions on how federal money is received and spent.

Acknowledging that South Carolina’s challenge to the DPPA technically is not moot, Waxman argued in his brief that the case is dead because the new law will achieve the same result as the DPPA, even if the Court rules against the federal government. Either way the Court goes, Waxman argued, states will be prevented from releasing driver information.

The new provision does not go into effect until the Supreme Court rules on the DPPA case, or as Waxman is urging, delays hearing arguments.

(Reno v. Condon)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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