By Ryan Singel
Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) declared independence Friday from federal identification rules and called on governors of 17 other states to join him in forcing a showdown with the federal government which says it will not accept the driver's licenses of rebel states' citizens starting May 11.
If that showdown comes to pass, a resident of a non-complying state could not use a driver's license to enter a federal courthouse or a Social Security Administration building nor could he board a plane without undergoing a pat-down search, possibly creating massive backlogs at the nation's airports and almost certainly leading to a flurry of federal lawsuits.
States have until May 11 to request extensions to the Real ID rules that were released last Friday. They require states to make all current identification holders under the age of 50 to apply again with certified birth and marriage certificates. The rules also standardize license formats, require states to interlink their DMV databases and require DMV employee to undergo background checks.
Extensions push back the 2008 deadline for compliance as far as out 2014 if states apply and promise to start work on making the necessary changes, which will cost cash-strapped states billions with only a pittance in federal funding to offset the costs.
Last year Montana passed a law saying it would not comply, citing privacy, states' rights and fiscal issues.
In his letter (.pdf) to other governors, Schweitzer makes clear he's not going to ask for an extension.
"Today, I am asking you to join with me in resisting the DHS coercion to comply with the provisions of REAL ID, " Schweitzer wrote. "If we stand together either DHS will blink or Congress will have to act to avoid havoc at our nation's airports and federal courthouses."
But Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner says DHS has no intention of blinking.
"That will mean real consequences for their citizens starting in may if their leadership chooses not to comply," Keehner said. "That includes getting on an airplane or entering a federal building, so they will need to get passports."
Keehner says DHS's policy won't change even if Georgia -- one of the 17 states that has signaled strong opposition to the rules -- declines to apply for an extension.
If that scenario came to pass, every Georgian who flies out through the nation's busiest airport -- Atlanta-Hartsfield International -- would have to be patted down by Homeland Security agents and have his carry-on bag hand-screened, likely resulting in massive delays.
Keehner also suggests that patted-down citizens will turn their wrath not on the feds but on their state government.
For his part, Schweitzer wants Congress to step up and pass alternative legislation that would stop Real ID and re-instate a commission that was working on driver's license rules before the REAL ID Act was slipped into must-pass defense legislation in 2005. That legislation assigned DHS the task of setting the rules single-handedly.
Keehner is adamant that the rules will make the country safer and that the price tag is not too high.
"The ability to get false identification must end, and Real ID is that step," Keehner said.
Privacy groups counter that the rules create a de-facto national identification card and won't stop terrorism or identity theft.
For his part, Schweitzer struck back at DHS statements he obviously considers arrogant.
"I take great offense at this notion we should all simply 'grow up'," Schweitzer wrote, referring to Thursday remarks from DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff about border rules regarding Canada. Schweitzer says those remarks "reflect DHS (sic) continued disrespect for the serious and legitimate concerns of our citizens."
A DHS policy maker suggested earlier this week that Real IDs could also be required to buy cold medicine and to prove employment eligibility.
Schweitzer's letter went out to the governors of Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington.
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- Montana Rejects Real ID Mandate, Joins Rebel Forces
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