Real ID, Real Problems: Jay Nixon, the Missouri Department of Revenue, and the Violation of House Bill 361

At the heart of the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) scandal is the violation of House Bill 361 – a law that explicitly, unambiguously protects Missouri citizens from having their personal information shared without permission. Governor Jay Nixon signed HB361 into law in 2009, to prevent our state from having to comply with the overreaching and often discriminatory Real ID Act. The fact that the Missouri DOR (under the authority of the Nixon administration) is now acting in violation of HB361 should be an affront to Missourians on all points of the political spectrum.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Advocacy and Policy Strategist Allie Bohm wrote about the dangers of Real ID, which is “an unfunded mandate that tramples on states’ rights.” Groups nationwide have expressed concerns over the act’s “lack of sufficient protections and potential to increase racial discrimination.” To date, 25 states have rejected the Real ID Act through statute or legislative resolution, and 15 states (including Missouri) have laws on the books that prohibit compliance with the act.

Clearly, the protection of personal data is not a partisan issue. That’s why groups as wide-ranging as the ACLU, the National Governors Association, the American Conservative Union, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund decry Real ID as intrusive at worst and ineffective at best. The implementation and enforcement of Real ID would be a logistical nightmare, particularly given the number of states who refuse to follow the law’s out-of-bounds parameters. Citizens in the non-complying states, for example, would be barred from using their drivers’ licenses to board airplanes or enter federal buildings.

Beyond its numerous logistical hassles, the Real ID Act presents some very troubling issues from a civil-rights perspective. Mennonites, for example, are religiously opposed to having their photos taken and placed on a license (this violates the biblical stricture against “graven images”). Many Muslim women feel that removing their veils for photos goes against a tenet of Islam. The requirement of an English-language birth certificate, which many states request in order to comply with Real ID, creates a significant burden for any new Americans not born in an English-speaking country.

The Real ID Act is so difficult to implement and so unpopular that Congress has been unable to enforce the law in any states that oppose it. Those states likely echo the sentiments of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who said that his state “is in no mood for another heavy-handed play by the federal government.” Missourians, likewise, are in no mood for this intrusive law. It’s ironic and disturbing, then, that Governor Nixon – the very same leader who stood up to Real ID by signing HB361 into law – is now overseeing a department that violates the law and tramples on Missourians’ rights. That level of hypocrisy is no way to run a state.