Court freezes order on driver’s license suspensions

Detroit News Staff and Wire

Detroit — A federal appeals court has temporarily frozen a judge’s order that stopped suspensions of some Michigan driver’s licenses.

Federal Judge Linda Parker halted suspensions if people can’t afford to pay traffic fines. But the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered on Thursday ordered a 30-day timeout, saying Parker needs to give guidance to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson about how Michigan is supposed to comply.

The Cincinnati-based appeals court said her injunction is “broad in scope and provides very little direction.”

Parker last week ruled that there is a strong likelihood that the due process rights of poor people are being violated when their licenses are suspended for failure to pay fines. She halted some suspensions on Dec. 14.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, representing Johnson, called Parker’s ruling “a deep unwarranted intrusion into Michigan’s sovereignty and its traditional police powers.” The injunction interfered with “the regulation of Michigan’s driver’s licenses and roadways, as well as administration of its trial courts,” the Republican attorney general argued in his emergency motion.

“This lawsuit is about the ability of Michigan trial courts to enforce judgments against drivers for traffic violation,” Johnson spokesman Fred Woodhams told The Detroit News earlier this week. “When a driver does not show up in court or does not pay their traffic fines, the court can request that their license be suspended.”

The injunction also would cost revenue for local courts, municipal governments and the state, Schuette’s office said.

In her ruling, Parker emphasized that she is not ordering the state to restore anyone’s license at this point. But the judge said the secretary of state must guarantee that people have notice of an ability-to-pay hearing before a suspension.

The 6th Circuit oversees federal appeals cases in Michigan as well as Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.