California Stands Up (A Little) to Feds on Real ID

California and a few other states have been offered extensions by the federal Department of Homeland Security on their compliance to national standards so as to let Californians with state IDs access to airports and federal buildings at which they might have been barred pending compliance. Apparently, the DHS originally demanded a promise that California would comply within the next couple years. California has not backed down, and DHS seems poised to give an exemption anyway. It has also recently given Montana a waiver that was not sought, indicating perhaps that only outwardly recalcitrant states will be punished.

The Real ID sailed through Congress three years ago without much debate at all, and has largely been defended on two grounds: As an anti-terror measure and as an anti-illegal alien measure. It is difficult to see, however, how state DMVs, if their licensing is so incompetent, will be made more precise and exacting once the DHS adds another layer of bureaucracy to the process. And while some politicians have discussed a national ID card as something the aliens would be forced to carry, this is absurd on its face. What kind of ID is only compelled upon the outsiders? Would NOT having an ID then be proof of being legal??

And as for terrorism, we might wonder about the national government focusing so much on airline security in the first place. As I wrote in August, 2006, market solutions can secure airlines, which itself has become a strange obsession, given all the other possible ways terrorists can attack. See also William Watkins on the civil liberties threats presented by Real ID. And here’s Pierre Lemieux, who writes that “in the history of organized political power, interior passports have been the norm, especially for little people” and so Real ID only has come after decades of “our traditions [being] under continuous attack.”

In the short-term, the recent compromises coming from DHS are somewhat reassuring, especially for those of us who are planning to fly in May, since, without compromise, it looked possible that those of us in non-complying states would not be allowed to use our standard state IDs to get on a plane. The issuance of exemptions also raises an interesting question: If Real ID is so urgent, so crucial, why is it okay for states not to comply? Why is the federal government treating the process with such ad hoc informality?

For the long run, it is to be hoped that more states stand up to this, continuing to expose the national government’s weakness and contradictions. Perhaps rebelling state governments are our most realistic hope of avoiding America’s final descent toward a future of being just one more police state where “Papers, Please,” is as common a phrase as “Hello.”

Anthony Gregory is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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