When Revoking a Driver's License is Unconstitutional

A federal district court judge has ruled in favor of two men whose licenses were revoked due to unplaid court costs.

drivier's license

A federal judge has ruled a Tennessee law unconstitutional. In this ground-breaking precedent, Judge Aleta Trauger opined that the State’s practice of revoking driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs is unconstitutional because there is no exception for people who are financially unable to pay off the court debts.

When revoking a license is unconstitutional

It’s important to note the State of Tennessee can still revoke a license for crimes like driving under the influence (DUI). It is not the revocation itself that is unconstitutional; only the revocation for no reason other than inability to pay court fines and fees.

In her opinion, Judge Trauger cited the vicious cycle that has resulted due to this practice. Mostly, those who are financially unable to pay their court costs are deemed ineligible to drive a car, which makes it pretty hard to hold a job. Moreover, if they cannot hold a job, they cannot earn income with which to pay the court costs.

There lies the unconstitutionality, according to Judge Trauger. The law, in practice, treats the wealthy and the poor in a fundamentally different manner, violating the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

to whom does the ruling apply

According to the New York Times, about 40 states follow a law that revokes licenses for unpaid court costs. However, this case only challenged the Tennessee law so therefore will only affect Tennessee residents.

Regardless, this ruling means over 100,000 Tennessee residents will be eligible to re-apply for a driver’s license. There is no doubt that more of these cases will develop across the other states.

Check back for more updates. 

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