ATTORNEY GENERAL TONG LEADS FIGHT FOR DRIVER'S LICENSES FOR IMMIGRANTS
Files amicus brief arguing that New York's Green Light Law is constitutional and will improve road safety
Attorney General William Tong led a coalition of nine states today in filing an amicus brief defending New York's Green Light Law, which authorizes the issuance of driving credentials to residents without regard to their federal immigration status.
In July, Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns filed a federal lawsuit advancing the claim that federal immigration law preempts – or overrides – state authority to pass the Green Light Law. If the lawsuit challenging New York's Green Light Law is upheld, it could have far-reaching and negative implications for Connecticut's driver's license laws and the safety of its residents. Since 2015, Connecticut has granted driving privileges to qualified residents who pass driving tests, regardless of their immigration status. The lawsuit, if successful, could open the door to an unprecedented federal interference with Connecticut’s traditional prerogative to grant driver’s licenses.
The brief – filed in federal district court for the Western District of New York, where the Green Light Law faces a partisan challenge – argues that issuing and regulating personal driving credentials is a traditional and effective exercise of states' constitutionally-protected power to promote residents' safety and health.
"In 2013, Connecticut made a smart and fair policy decision to let residents drive if they pass a test, prove their identity, and get insurance. Your immigration status and place where you were born have nothing to do with whether you're a safe driver," said Attorney General Tong. "That policy decision is protected by the Constitution, which has ensured that states can make these important decisions for themselves ever since the first state driver's license was issued in 1903. The policy has had a positive impact on public safety, including a decrease in hit-and-run accidents; reduced citations for driving without a license; and even increased state revenues. I am grateful that eight other attorneys general have joined Connecticut in its staunch defense of New York's Green Light Law which is not only constitutional but will have a lasting positive impact on the safety of New York's residents."
Like all of the states in the multistate coalition, Connecticut has a law that conditions state driving privileges on relevant factors – like passing a test and purchasing insurance – rather than the irrelevant and unrelated factor of federal immigration status.
Connecticut's law, passed in 2013, authorizes the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a special category of licenses that let residents drive – but not exercise federal rights like voting or boarding an airplane – without proof of federal immigration status.
By passing the Green Light Law in June, New York became the fifteenth state or territory to authorize driver's licenses for immigrants.
When the law takes effect in December, approximately 110 million U.S. residents – fully a third of the nation's population – will benefit from living in a state that grants driving privileges based on relevant criteria such as passing a driving test, proving identity, paying a fee, and obtaining proper insurance – rather than immigration status.
The other 14 states and territories are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Puerto Rico, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
In their brief, the states argue that the federal government has not preempted the issuance of state driving privileges, which has been the exclusive prerogative of the states since the first driver's license law was passed in the U.S. in 1903.
In January 2015, Connecticut enacted its law that permitted the state to grant drive-only licenses without regard to applicants' immigration status.
As of August 2019, Connecticut had issued 54,045 drive-only licenses. In the years after the law's implementation, hit-and-run accidents statewide fell by nine percent; there has been a 23.7 percent decrease statewide in the number of arrests and citations for driving without a license; and the Drive-Only license program brought in approximately $13.81 million for the state treasury.
Joining Attorney General Tong in filing the amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawai'i, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, and Washington.
Special Counsel for Civil Rights Joshua Perry is assisting the Attorney General with this matter.
A copy of the brief is available here.