The Gradual Loss of Freedoms

In a 1775 letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams wrote: “. . .a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”

Adams was Vice President when the Bill of Rights were adopted, including the 10th Amendment, which has been under assault: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

These concerns are why I pushed to exempt Pennsylvania from the mandates of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005, which requires states comply with federal standards for drivers’ licenses and identification cards.

My legislation to exempt Pennsylvania was first introduced in 2009 and thoroughly vetted: it was amended three times in 2009 and 2010 but not passed. In 2011, I reintroduced similar legislation, which was again amended, passed the General Assembly with just five negative votes, and signed into law in 2012. Other states passed similar measures.

From 2012 until last year, the federal government hadn’t taken action against Pennsylvania for not complying with REAL ID. Then, the federal government notified the Commonwealth its drivers’ licenses would no longer be accepted to get into federal facilities (military bases, nuclear plants) the end of January 2017; January 22, 2018 Pennsylvania drivers’ licenses wouldn’t be accepted to board commercial flights.

This notice led to citizen angst and the Governor and General Assembly initiated efforts to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with REAL ID, resulting in a federal extension to June 30, 2017 for compliance. While I’m certain Pennsylvania will become compliant, I remain concerned with REAL ID.

Requiring identification isn’t rare. My question is how REAL ID makes us safer? Consider 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Born and raised in a typical working-class environment, McVeigh joined the army and was decorated for valor before being discharged. There would be no reason he wouldn’t have received a REAL ID card. Yet, he was convicted and executed for the worst case of domestic terrorism: his bomb killed 168. A REAL ID card wouldn’t have stopped Timothy McVeigh.

REAL ID requires states collect a digital facial image/photograph of all drivers’ license applicants. Prior to REAL ID, most drivers’ photos were low resolution pictures that weren’t facial recognition compatible. What are the costs to upgrade licenses to the high resolution digital facial images required by REAL ID?

REAL ID also gives the Secretary of Homeland Security power to determine when “Official Purposes” require a REAL ID compliant drivers’ license. Will “official purposes” include the purchase of weapons and/or ammunition? What about picking up prescriptions? Where is the Constitutional authority for such broad and sweeping power being given to the Executive Branch in general and a Cabinet member in particular?

REAL ID also calls for linking state motor vehicle databases to give federal authorities direct or indirect access. While people will still be able to board commercial airliners without a REAL ID compliant license or another acceptable ID (passport, military ID card, enhanced drivers’ license), how will they be protected from identity theft?

Article IV, Section 2 of the US Constitution guarantees “the Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” This gives us the right of free ingress into and from other states. When did this right become a “convenience”?

As James Madison said: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”