Several groups, including the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Community Action, are appealing a judge's order they say discriminates against immigrants and foreign visitors who apply for state driver's licenses. The groups filed a case with the state court of appeals Monday, arguing the new rules are unconstitutional.
Under the changes that took effect two weeks ago, first-time applicants for Minnesota driver's licenses must show two forms of ID. If a person is in the U.S. on a temporary visa, the visa's expiration date will also appear on the driver's license, thereby designating that the driver is a non-citizen.
A coalition of groups including the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, Jewish Community Action, the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Somali Community of Minnesota and 13 individuals asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to throw out the changes.
"Immigrants working and living in Minnesota - like your doctor at the Mayo Clinic, or my Somali cab driver to the airport, or my office's Mexican janitors - are not security threats. "
- Leonard Oppenheimer, Jewish Community Action
Leonard Oppenheimer, who serves on Jewish Community Action's board of directors, says the state shouldn't be singling out classes of people based on race, religion or birth country.
"Immigrants working and living in Minnesota - like your doctor at the Mayo Clinic, or my Somali cab driver to the airport, or my office's Mexican janitors - are not security threats. No evidence of such threats by our immigrant community was presented to the Legislature, nor is there any such evidence," Oppenheimer says.
Similar provisions proposed in reaction to Sept. 11 failed to win legislative approval last session. In their court papers, the groups charge Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver with doing an end-run around the Legislature to get the changes established through the court. The groups also argue the new rules violate the Constitution's equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment.
Minnesota Civil Liberties Union Director Chuck Samuelson says even if the rule changes were enacted before Sept. 11, they would not have stopped, or even slowed down, the attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
"If you're currently a permanent immigrant here - which is the vast, vast majority of immigrants in this state - this doesn't apply to you at all. This only applies to those people who are here temporarily."
- Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver
"But these rules will erode part of our civil liberties. And to even do what Charlie Weaver wants we'll have to change even more rules - such as making state IDs mandatory for everyone, not just for those of us who want the privilege of driving," Samuelson says.
"That's not true. That's B.S.," says Weaver.
He says the rule changes are limited, and are not unfair to immigrants.
"If you're currently a permanent immigrant here - which is the vast, vast majority of immigrants in this state - this doesn't apply to you at all. This only applies to those people who are here temporarily," says Weaver. "And if you're a Minnesotan who's gotten a license since you were 16, and you're renewing your license, this won't affect you a single bit."
Weaver says there's no legal basis to challenge the changes, because driver's licenses aren't a right but a privilege. He says he and the Department of Public Safety have the authority to make such changes. But William Mitchell law professor Peter Erlander says that's not the law.
"If that were the case then he'd be able to grant them, deny them, do whatever he wanted, to determine who can and can't drive in Minnesota based on his own say-so," Erlander says.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals most likely won't hold oral arguments on the case for at least two months. The coalition of groups filed a petition, which is a kind of summary of the case but does not detail their arguments. The groups have 30 days to file their detailed briefs. Then, the attorney general's office, representing the public safety commissioner, has another 30 days to file its briefs.More from MPR