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Court upholds constitutionality of federal driver records law

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Court upholds constitutionality of federal driver records law 04/06/98 ALABAMA--The federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), which requires states to…

Court upholds constitutionality of federal driver records law

04/06/98

ALABAMA–The federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), which requires states to limit public access to “personal information” contained in drivers’ license and motor vehicle records, does not violate either the tenth or eleventh amendments to the U.S. constitution, a federal District Court in Montgomery held in mid- March.

The DPPA does not impermissibly compel states to pass laws or invent administrative schemes to govern their own activities, Judge Ira DeMent said.

In September 1997, federal district courts in South Carolina and Oklahoma enjoined enforcement of the DPPA as an unconstitutional violation of states’ rights. The Department of Justice is currently appealing those decisions.

The federal court in Alabama found that the DPPA directly prohibits the state from releasing personal motor vehicle records for impermissible purposes, rather than requiring the state to enforce the federal government’s ban on the disclosures.

Although Alabama may incur some administrative and personnel costs associated with compliance, the DPPA does not mandate that Alabama enact any specific legislation or regulation, nor does the DPPA require that the state take any specific action in furtherance of a federal goal, the court wrote.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor had sought a declaration that Congress, in enacting the DPPA, exceeded its authority under the Tenth Amendment by requiring Alabama to administer a federal program.

Pryor also argued that the DPPA violates the Eleventh Amendment’s bar against suits against states in federal court because it allows private lawsuits against state employees for knowingly disclosing personal information from a motor vehicle record. The court rejected this contention as well, noting that the DPPA specifically precludes such suits.

Pryor told the Associated Press that he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.). (Pryor v. Reno; Counsel: Billington Garrett, Montgomery)