Don’t Fear Real ID

I must admit I took pride in the fact that Minnesota was among the last holdouts in passing a seat belt requirement when the federal government demanded states pass such a law or risk losing federal transportation dollars.

Likewise, I must admit to taking some pride in Minnesota being among the last holdouts for passing Real ID.

State sovereignty is regularly undermined by federal laws that legislate on matters traditionally within the sphere of state power. Indeed, federal officials too often forget that the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves the powers to the states that are not specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

So, it’s always refreshing to see a state push back against federal overreach.

All that said, it’s time for Minnesota to pass REAL ID legislation.

In response to the 9/11 terror attacks, the federal government passed the REAL ID Act back in 2005 to improve security of airline travel and access to federal buildings by establishing stricter verification and security measures for IDs used to access these facilities.

Because state driver’s licenses are now used for such purposes, the law requires state driver’s licenses to comply with the stricter standards if a state wants to enable their residents to use their licenses to fly and enter federal facilities.

Currently, there’s push back coming from both the left and right against Minnesota complying with REAL ID. The left worries about how REAL ID will impact undocumented immigrants access to a driver’s license. From the right, REAL ID is an unconstitutional mandate outside the federal government’s enumerated federal powers that creates a national ID with serious impacts on privacy.

The left’s argument doesn’t appear to hold water. According to the Star Tribune editorial board, “A state administrative rule now bans issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The House Real ID bill would put that ban in statute, so that legislative action would be required to remove it.”

Thus, the bill doesn’t change anything. It just requires future legislative action to make any change to the administrative rule, which should have been a requirement to granting licenses to undocumented immigrants in the first place.

Constitutional objections also don’t hold water. REAL ID is of a different character from other federal intrusions into the affairs of state governments. This does not involve the federal government bribing states to pass a law or risk losing federal funds and it is not the federal government simply taking over an area of traditional state concern. Instead, REAL ID is law that regulates access to federal facilities and interstate commerce.

While the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause has long been abused to justify federal overreach—starting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval of federal regulation of wheat production in Wickard v. Filburn in 1942—the regulation of air travel between the states is a clear example of the interstate commerce that the federal government is empowered to regulate under the Constitution. Imagine multiple states requiring varying types of IDs for air travel. Compliance would be maddening for U.S. citizens.

Privacy is the most reasonable objection. Without getting into the nuances of the privacy argument, the REAL ID legislation moving through the Minnesota House and the Senate creates two tracks of driver’s licenses—one that complies with REAL ID and one that does not. Thus, anyone with privacy concerns can opt out.

This is an entirely reasonable compromise. Whatever you might think of the privacy problems with a national ID, the REAL ID Act is the law of the land and well within the constitutional powers of the federal government. As such, privacy concerns should be taken to Minnesota’s federal delegation.

The state’s implementation of REAL ID is really about guaranteeing convenient air travel for Minnesota residents. The federal government is not mandating the state do anything. It’s just saying Minnesota driver’s licenses won’t be valid for air travel in 2018.

Not complying with REAL ID will require any Minnesotan that wants to fly to get a special federal ID. It also risks imposing severe confusion on travelers when they try to fly and either forget their federal ID or never got one in the first place.

To help Minnesota travelers, it’s now past time for state lawmakers to pass REAL ID.