Fox News is reporting that a group of aliens living illegally in the United States, Oregon specifically, is suing to overturn a ballot initiative in that state in which voters resoundingly rebuffed attempts to legislatively permit illegal aliens to obtain Oregon driver's licenses.
The basis? Discrimination. The plaintiffs allege that the ballot initiative, Measure 88, is unconstitutional "because it 'arbitrarily' denies driving privileges based on membership in a 'disfavored minority group.' It [the lawsuit] alleges Oregon voters were motivated by "animus toward persons from Mexico and Central America."
Fox quotes Norman Williams, associate dean for academic affairs at the Willamette University College of Law in Salem, as saying "that the plaintiffs' best argument is under the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause — and to claim Oregon has no rational basis for depriving undocumented Latin Americans of the ability to drive on Oregon's roads."
Mr. Williams goes on to say, "The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that neither legislators nor voters may target a minority group because of their race or ethnicity."
He seems to be missing the point that it is immigration status, not race or ethnicity, that is key to the license denial. It is beyond argument that the state has a legitimate interest in deciding to whom it will issue driver's licenses; certainly Oregonian voters think so. So does the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently sustained a restraining order against the Obama administration issued by a U.S. District Court in Texas after that state (and 25 others) filed suit. Perhaps the good dean should read that opinion.
It is hard to imagine how a claim of unconstitutional discrimination could possibly be sustained. First, the ballot measure is facially neutral. It denies a license to anyone who is illegally in the country, without regard to race, ethnicity, or national origins. An overstayed Canadian of Northern European origins would be denied a license as surely as a mestizo from Mexico.
Second, individuals lawfully residing in the United States — including, obviously, people of Mexican or Central American origin — are all entitled to licenses without other qualifiers or caveats, so they are clearly unaffected. Surely if there were state-sanctioned "animus toward persons from Mexico and Central America" it would leak over into other provisions of the motor vehicle laws. But it clearly has not.
While it is true that Mexicans make up a large (but shrinking) portion of the population of aliens illegally in the United States — the Pew Research Center estimates 5.6 million in 2014, down from 6.4 million in 2009 — it is equally true that Mexicans represent the highest proportion of lawful resident aliens living in the United States as of 2013, according to the Department of Homeland Security. (See Table 4, here.)
The only thing one can reliably conclude from available statistics is that, by geographical circumstance (Mexico being the neighbor to our immediate south and the Central American countries just a bit further south), a large proportion of both our legal and our illegal populations will almost inevitably emanate from those countries. How this translates into a claim of discrimination is beyond me.
Let us watch and see how this mini-drama plays out. One suspects that the legal organizations representing the plaintiffs know full well that they are attempting to tilt the tables in the ongoing struggle between the states and the administration in the Fifth Circuit case, which the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to hear, by playing off of the same issues under the guise of discrimination.