Judge orders TN to halt to driver license suspensions

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Licenses cannot be revoked because of poverty and a failure to pay court debt, a judge has ruled (Photo Midsouthtransplant.org)

U.S. District Court judge Aleta Trauger on Tuesday issued an order in one of two driver license cases in which she rebukes Tennessee for its oppressive use of state privileges to harass and oppress the poor.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

Judge Trauger orders an immediate end to the practice of suspending or permitting the suspension of driver’s licenses for  failure to pay fines, costs, or litigation taxes related to traffic violations pursuant to a widely abused statute, Tenn. Code Ann. Title 55, the statute that regulates transportation and all vehicle for hire use of the public right of way.

The plaintiffs are private users of the roads, noncommercial, but are seeking driver licenses under the but are seeking driver licenses under the rebuttable presupposition that they are requisite even for private use of the people’s right of way.

The case involves Fred Robinson, Ashley Sprague, and Johnny Gibbs, whose claims are shepherded by a public interest law firm in New York, the National Center of Law and Economic Justice. A second case involves two petitioners, James Thomas and David Hixson, and a similar order came down in July in that case.

It’s not immediately clear why two cases covering similar grounds are before the court.

Victims must now prove poverty

But Judge Trauger’s exceptions make what seems to be a bright vista for motorists under a civil death sentence a much darker, with work to be done locally to establish a pauper status by a “factual determination.”

This statement from the Department of Safety presents Judge Aleta Trauger’s ruling as if it were new. She had already ruled an end to abuse encounters.

In a second provision, the order directs the department to waive reinstatement fees and other reinstatement requirements.

This command, too, is pocked with exceptions imposing a burden of proof on the licensee. She also orders that the department allow reinstatement once the licensee goes to a complicated procedure in the local jurisdiction to prove poverty, a “fact-based inquiry, with participation by the applicant, as to the applicant’s ability to pay.”

Judge Trauger is halfway right on the “right to drive” case before her.

She establishes that the common law right to travel is best affected by the use of cars, and that if a person cannot get about by car, he is effectively under a civil death sentence, though she doesn’t use these words. She does not recognize, in the language of her overlong and voluminous rulings, a right to travel that I have determined exists in both the state and federal constitutions and in Tennessee state law, starting with Shannon’s code. The U.S. case is No. 3:17-cv-01263

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