Governor Sends Driver's License Case to Supreme Court

Posted by Matthew Green | Dec 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

The recurring issue of Arizona's anti-immigrant laws finding themselves at odds with federal laws and constitutional guarantees is again rearing its head.  After Arizona's law barring those who qualify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) from getting driver's license was blocked, and reconsideration denied, there was one place left for a final ruling.  Now, Governor Jan Brewer is asking the nation's highest court to take up the issue.
Earlier this month, we wrote on the judicial decision to deny Brewer's request to reconsider the DREAMers' driver's license case. At that time, the governor's office indicated they were still weighing all options, and only considered that decision a procedural setback.  Now the governor has made their decision, and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue once and for all.

Although Brewer has less than a month left in office, Governor-elect Doug Ducey has said he supports Brewer's driver's license ban for immigrants. When Brewer leaves office early this January, Ducey will continue the battle.  Ducey has said in a debate that he doesn't think “anyone gets the privileges and benefits of hardworking Arizona families that are paid for by hardworking Arizona taxpayers.”  Of course this statement appears to ignore the hardworking families and taxpayers who also happen to be immigrants who are not able to take advantages of many of the privileges and benefits provided only to U.S. citizens.

In the shorter term, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling will become final on Tuesday, at which point the Arizona Department of Transportation will have to issue licenses to people who have been granted DACA status. If they fail to do so, they will be in violation of federal law.  Nearly 25,000 people have qualified for DACA in the state.

The governor's outside legal counsel, Timothy Berg, argues in the alternative that the state regulation does not run counter to federal law.  He argues that preventing those who are not authorized by federal law to remain in the country from getting driver's licenses is still valid because DACA is not a federal law, but rather an Obama administration policy decision.  According to their argument, Arizona's 1996 statute is not preempted by federal law.

Berg said the appellate decision confuses fundamental constitutional issues that the Supreme Court would want to decide, and from Berg's point of view, overturn. In part, Berg said the Court would address “whether a federal agency can impliedly preempt state law in an area of traditional state authority by issuing an informal policy memorandum.”

A dozen states offer some form of driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, with only Arizona and Nebraska as the states with an outright ban on driver's licenses for DACA immigrants.  Immigrant advocates are becoming further frustrated by Arizona's continued court battles that make the state appear to be ground zero for anti-immigration legislation.  Jennifer Chang Newell, a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Project, has criticized Brewer's continuing the fight.  “Rather than do the right thing, the governor has decided to waste taxpayer money and try to take her vendetta against these young immigrant dreamers to the Supreme Court,” said Newell.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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If you are not a U.S. citizen, and you are charged with a crime, you automatically have two legal systems that threaten to penalize you with incarceration and deportation. Our law firm concentrates its practice on assisting foreign nationals charged with crimes to avoid deportation.