State Wants Pause on Part of Driver's License Order


A sample Tennessee driver license. - TN.GOV
  • A sample Tennessee driver license.

State officials have stopped revoking driver’s licenses from those who can’t pay traffic-ticket fines and fees and have lifted revocations for most, but they want a halt on the process to get revoked licenses back to all such drivers.

Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DHS) Commissioner David Purkey filed an appeal last week on a legal decision made earlier this month that ruled unconstitutional the state's process of revoking licenses because drivers could not pay fines and fees.

The suit was originally filed in January 2017, in part by Just City, the Memphis criminal justice reform advocacy group, and Memphis-based law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz. The National Center for Law and Economic Justice, and Civil Rights Corps joined the suit later.

The order from United States District Judge Aleta Trauger mandated DHS officials to immediately stop all such revocations and reinstate any driver’s license that was revoked based solely on inability to pay.

But Purkey asked to pause a third mandate that directs his office to draft and submit a plan to identify and reinstate licenses of all of those whose licenses were taken because they couldn’t pay. Purkey argued that some ”drivers may face other revocations or suspensions on other grounds.”

Finding those will take time and taxpayer dollars, Purkey argued in his appeal. So, he wants an opinion from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal on the constitutionality of parts of Trauger’s order before he spends time or money.
“Moreover, the development of a plan while this matter is on appeal will require individual review of many driver’s license records, and such driver-by-driver assessments will be quite complicated in some instances,” reads the appeal. “The expenditure of government funds and resources to that endeavor, while the state exercises its right to appeal, would be potentially wasteful given the possibility of a reversal or remand for further proceedings.”

Purkey said, his department has “administratively lifted approximately 237,000 (such revocations) affecting approximately 118,000 drivers.” With that, he said pausing the creation of the plan would “cause no harm” to the plaintiffs in the case.

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