By Noam Biale, Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program
It’s not a good day to be Tim Pawlenty.
The Republican governor of Minnesota distinguished himself earlier this month by becoming the only governor in the country to veto an anti-Real ID bill. Eighteen other states had already rejected this Bush administration boondoggle, which would turn state driver’s licenses into national identity cards. By a bipartisan majority, the Minnesota legislature passed a provision to its transportation budget that would have allowed the Governor to delay implementation of Real ID until funding could be secured from the federal government, and the law’s multiple privacy and security problems could be fixed.
Not one to be cowed by reasonable, fiscally conservative measures that would protect Minnesotans from identity theft, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the state’s entire transportation budget over the Real ID measure, saying, "[t]he positions of interest groups such as the ACLU... will likely cause protracted and unnecessary litigation for the state." I checked around the office and no one is quite sure what ACLU Gov. Pawlenty is talking about – we don’t usually challenge laws we support, especially when they reject the federal Real ID Act. Nevertheless, the governor’s veto pen seemed to be the end of the road for this important bill that would have protected the privacy and civil liberties of Minnesotans, while saving the state millions of dollars.
Until last night. In a stunning reversal, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill yesterday that would bar the state from complying with Real ID altogether. The bill’s language leaves little to interpretation, stating simply, "The commissioner of public safety is prohibited from taking any action to implement or to plan for the implementation by this state of those sections of Public Law 109-13 known as the Real ID Act." The votes were equally unambiguous: 50-16 in the Senate and 103-30 in the House. Those are veto-proof majorities, leaving the governor in the uncomfortable position of having to reject an even stronger version of the bill he already vetoed, and then potentially face an override by the legislature.
Of course, all this embarrassment could have been avoided if Gov. Pawlenty had listened to the overwhelming opposition to Real ID in Minnesota and across the country, rather than attempting to do battle with an imaginary ACLU bogeyman. (We’re actually real nice once you get to know us, especially to elected officials who stand up for Americans’ privacy rights.) Governors Brian Schweitzer, Democrat of Montana, and Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, have both been rewarded by their constituents and on the national stage for staring down threats by the Department of Homeland Security and refusing to comply with Real ID. Indeed, an important milestone passed by last weekend with little fanfare: May 11, 2008 was supposed to be the deadline for all states to comply with the Real ID Act. That day came and went, without a single state implementing the program.
Meanwhile, anti-Real ID legislation continues to move in the states. The Louisiana House of Representatives is considering a bill today that was passed out of committee unanimously and would opt the state out of the program. The Alaska legislature sent a bill barring the state from spending any money to implement Real ID to Gov. Sarah Palin’s desk last month. And the state of Arizona is poised to pass a bill similar to Minnesota’s, and send it to Gov. Janet Napolitano this week.
All these anti-Real ID bills have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, just as the U.S. Senate bill that would scrap Real ID and go back to the negotiated rulemaking process for improving identity security that was created based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. Kos diarist Smintheus suggested recently that Real ID could be a perfect wedge issue for the Democrats in November, but we have seen over and over again that opposition to a national ID transcends party affiliation or political ideology. The Real ID Act was flawed in its conception, and may now finally be in its death throes thanks to the actions of legislators in Minnesota and 18 other states from South Carolina to Washington.
Governors Napolitano in Arizona, Palin in Alaska, and others across the country should sign their states’ anti-Real ID bills into law if they want to avoid their own reversals of fortune. The message of the Real ID rebellion is clear: Don’t pull a Pawlenty.