County Clerk Sues New York Governor to Stop Illegal-Alien Drivers’ Licenses
By David Jaroslav | July 11, 2019
On June 17, the so-called Green Light Bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 3675, passed the New York Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), authorizing drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens. Even before then, numerous county clerks, county executives and other local officials across the Empire State had expressed their strong opposition and made clear they might sue to stop the law going into effect. Those lawsuits have now begun being filed, and more are likely soon.
One of the most outspoken opponents of the bill has been Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns. In New York, many county clerks, particularly upstate, effectively act as agents for the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and are required to issue drivers licenses. But Kearns said repeatedly that he and his staff will not issue them to illegal aliens, because it “would result in higher local government costs and pose public safety and voter fraud threats.” As soon as the bill passed, he began preparing to sue to stop it.
On July 8, Kearns made good on his promise and filed a federal lawsuit against Cuomo, New York Attorney General (AG) Leticia James and DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder, asking the court to declare the Green Light Bill unconstitutional and order that it not be enforced. Kearns says he has "been adamant since Day 1 that my objection to issuing driver’s licenses to those unlawfully present in the United States is strongly rooted in the law," and is “willing to follow this all the way all the way to the Supreme Court."
Kearns’s lawsuit argues that the Green Light Bill:
- Conflicts with the federal criminal law against concealing, shielding or harboring illegal aliens, Title 8 United States Code Section 1324. This means that following state law could, and likely would, require the clerk or his employees to commit federal crimes.
- Conflicts with the federal Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which not only prohibits employing illegal aliens but “makes it illegal for employers to knowingly hire, recruit, refer, or continue to employ” them. The Green Light Bill is an obvious attempt to frustrate and interfere with Congress’s intent in passing this federal statute, “undermin[ing] the IRCA’s purpose and objectives.”
- Amounts to the state attempting to regulate immigration, a subject over which the U.S. Constitution grants Congress exclusive authority, and is therefore federally preempted under the Supremacy Clause.
As Kearns notes in the suit, even Gov. Cuomo admitted that defending the bill’s constitutionality “is going to be a difficult legal question.” More recently, the governor described the bill as “very questionable.”
And this lawsuit is probably only the first of several. Many other county clerks have said they will not comply. And in Monroe County, County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo (R) has asked the county legislature to enact a local law allowing her to sue, since County Clerk Adam Bello (D) says he plans to follow the Green Light Bill. Dinolfo says the bill, “violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
The Green Light Bill may have passed, but the fight back against drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens, in New York and elsewhere, has only just begun.