Prodded by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Motor Vehicle Commission has agreed to call off adoption of stricter identification requirements for drivers’ license applicants.
Just a day before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Paul Innes was to hold a hearing on the ACLU-NJ’s application for a permanent injunction against the program, known as TRU-ID, the state agreed to scotch it.
Innes had entered a temporary injunction against TRU-ID’s implementation last May 4, a few days before it was to go into effect.
The Oct. 4 settlement means the current “6-point” system for drivers’ license applications, which has been around since 2003, will remain in effect.
TRU-ID would impose far stiffer documentary requirements. Drivers would have to show proof of Social Security number, legal identity, legal presence in the United States and principal residence. All documents would have to be originals or certified copies and in English. The state would retain photocopies of documents like birth certificates and Social Security cards.
The state maintained that it was adopting the TRU-ID program to implement the federal REAL ID Act of 2005, which imposed stricter standards on issuance of drivers licenses in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The REAL ID Act set standards for state-issued identification that would be acceptable for entering federal buildings or boarding commercial airplanes.
The ACLU claimed in the suit that the collection of personal documents like birth certificates was an invasion of privacy, along with violation of other constitutional rights. At least 25 states have declined to implement the act, the ACLU said.
It further alleged that the commission adopted the rubric without complying with the rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act. It was not published in the New Jersey Register and its restrictions were not subject to review and comment by the public.
Under the settlement, if the state decides to renews its plans to adopt TRU-ID, it agrees to follow the APA and to notify the ACLU. The state also agrees to pay attorney fees.
“I am thrilled to see implementation of the REAL ID Act toppled in New Jersey,” says former ACLU-NJ executive director Deborah Jacobs, a plaintiff in the suit.
Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU-NJ, said it was clear that the judge agreed with the ACLU on its claim that TRU-ID’s adoption broke state law.
“New Jersey law is perfectly clear—if you are changing regulations that effect the rights of citizens, then you have to go through the Administrative Procedure Act and provide the public with notice and an opportunity to comment,” he says.
Barocas is also concerned that the Motor Vehicle Commission has not said how it will ensure security of its new database of citizen’s sensitive documents. “This database would be a hackers dream,” he says.
The suit named the Motor Vehicle Commission and its chief administrator, Raymond Martinez, as defendants.
A spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Commission, Mike Horan, says his agency chose to settle the ACLU case and to adhere to the APA in future efforts to enact new drivers license regulations, rather than prolong the current case. Horan said there’s no question that the MVC will seek to enact TRU-ID again at some point in the future.
Under the current “6-point” system, applicants must present a “primary document” such as a passport that is current or expired within the past three years, a birth certificate, a military identification card, adoption papers or a boat license, along with one or two “secondary documents,” which may include a firearm purchaser card, bank statement, ATM card or high school diploma.