I don’t often get political on this blog, but I’m going to make a rare exception tonight to say I’m proud to live in Maine. Why? Back in 2005 the Congress passed the REAL ID act without really realizing what they were doing (they seem to do a lot of that down there). It got tacked on to a larger appropriations bill by Wisconsin “Republican” James Sensenbrenner (I put the quotation marks in there since true Republicans used to be fiscally conservative supporters of states rights and civil liberties). What REAL ID amounts to is a huge unfunded mandate and is a surreptitious attempt to create a National ID card. Big Brother where art thou?
Now, before I get into Maine’s response to this mess, I should explain a little further why this is such a mess to begin with. The idea is the require these federally approved IDs not only to fly (and perhaps for other modes of transport) but also for access to federal buildings and for voting. Let’s look at the latter for a moment. Suppose they were required for voting purposes. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, the problem is, if they were, the state that issues them could not charge a fee when doing so since that would amount to a polling tax which is unconstitutional. State’s bring in a rather large amount of money through fees associated with driver’s licenses and would lose this ability with REAL ID since the Feds have not made any provision to replace the lost revenue.
Let’s now look at the federal building access problem. I’m ok with metal detectors and even searches for access to federal buildings. Safety is certainly important. However, by requiring specific IDs the Feds are setting themselves up for a constitutional showdown since many people argue that this is a hindrance to the people’s right to petition their government, i.e. it limits access to the government which is unconstitutional.
So what did Maine do? Well, a year ago, the great State of Maine flipped the Feds a collective bird by officially making it illegal for Maine to comply with REAL ID. Maine was not the only state to oppose REAL ID. In fact South Carolina passed a similar law. However, despite the fact that South Carolina’s governor Mark Sanford signaled that his state had no intention of complying, the Feds granted SC an extension since they have apparently taken some steps closer to what the Feds want. Maine got an extension too – until 5 PM Wednesday. That’s tomorrow. Methinks Maine ain’t gonna comply by then.
Now, I agree with the Feds on one point – Maine should require proof of residence before handing out licenses. Presently it does not. But this act is so heinous that it has drawn the ire of both the ACLU and the John Birch Society – two organizations normally in different idealogical universes (or at least perceived as such – the truth isn’t quite that simple).
In any case, I sincerely hope that Maine doesn’t buckle under the pressure. If history is an indicator, it won’t. In 1652 Massachusetts took Maine by force and immediately set about trying to get Cape Porpoise residents to straighten the windy King’s Highway. Over the next 150 years Massachusetts did everything short of sending a crew up to do it themselves (court battles, etc.). It’s still windy (and is now Route 9).
So, I guess I’ll need to either start taking my passport with me when I fly or be prepared to get a pat-down every time I board a flight. But it’s amazing how hard it is for Congress to repeal its own bill. Numerous bipartisan attempts have been/are being made and yet progress is slow (I guess they’re too busy making a show of asking ExxonMobil about its record profits – they do this just so they can say they actually care about the problem but they’re pretty much powerless to stop it from happening). In any case, I’m not holding my breath.