Our Editorial: Court should lift license injunction

The Detroit News

An appeals court should affirm today that states have considerable sovereignty to establish their own set of laws and regulations by which to govern themselves. And that includes deciding reasonable penalties for violating those rules.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is expected to rule today whether to grant an emergency stay to allow Michigan to continue to suspend the driver’s licenses of motorists who don’t pay their traffic fines.

Detroit Federal District Judge Linda Parker issued an injunction Dec. 14 temporarily barring the state from lifting the driving privileges of scofflaws until a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the license suspensions is heard.

Parker’s injunction came at the request of a group called Equal Justice Under the Law, which filed the suit charging license suspensions unduly harm the poor.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is asking the appeals court to lift the injunction, and the court should comply. A ruling is expected today.

The injunction is a major intrusion into the right of Michigan to govern itself. Without the ability to suspend licenses for unpaid fines, the state loses the only enforcement tool it has to ensure its traffic laws are followed.

Expecting people to pay their traffic fines is not an onerous burden, nor one that is uniquely borne by the poor. Paying a fine is a struggle for many, and an inconvenience for most.

But part of the purpose of the penalties is to reinforce the notion that laws exist for a reason — and must be followed.

Parker justified blocking the license suspensions because she said they likely violate constitutional due process protections. The judge cited the failure of the 43rd District Court website to warn violators that failure to pay the traffic fines could result in a license suspension.

But Schuette, who is representing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, argues notice is not required because the law specifically states that suspension is the penalty for non-payment.

It is within the rights of a state to determine how to enforce its laws, as well as to make provisions for dealing with those who can’t or won’t pay.

Certainly, Michigan should consider a more lenient approach to those occasional traffic violators who lack the ability to pay the fine. Suspending their right to drive could make their economic fortunes worse.

But that’s a matter for the Legislature to decide, not the federal courts.

It should be noted that this case has nothing to do with driver responsibility fees, which are onerous and should be repealed.

The appeals court should lift the injunction preventing Michigan from enforcing reasonable laws and allow the state to get back to governing itself.