Sep 4, 2013 11:34 PM by Erin Steuber

LA Supreme Court Considering Constitutionality of Driving Law

The State Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of a driving law. The "driving without lawful US presence statute" forces drivers to prove their citizenship, or face a felony charge. In Lafayette Parish, in the past 5 years, about 300 arrests were made citing the law. Three of those people arrested took their case to New Orleans, before the state's highest court. No decisions were made, but the supreme court heard arguments. The main argument: Does the state have the right to charge immigrants with a felony if they're caught driving without their papers?

In this case attorneys representing the three immigrants are only arguing against the law's constitutionality, but separate arguments, involving race and equal protection, were also brought up.

"You know the equal protection issue that was brought up was strategic on our part," said Chad Ikerd of the defense. "If we lose here, and potentially an appeal to the supreme court, we would bring an equal protection argument in the future. There are obvious equal protection issues, possible vagueness issues and eighth amendment issues. So this wouldn't be over if we lose today."

The issues of race and equal protection were noted by the state, which argued they're outside the scope of this case.

"Racially profiling may exist under this statute...but the argument here today was that federal law requires that we strike this statute," said Colin Clark, representing the state. "But that's not what the federal law says."

It's a statute that was created as an anti-terrorism measure, but none of those arrested under this law have ever been charged with terrorism. Because of that, this case has caught the eyes of civil rights advocates.

"Unfortunately, in Louisiana, people are serving six months jail time with hard labor," said Yihon Mao with the NOLA Worker Center for Racial Justice. "That creates a feeling of terror in the community where individuals are being separated from their families, because they are simply driving while brown, and while hispanic."

"Our statute complies completely with the United States Constitution. There is no federal law that conflicts and falls in some sort of field that Congress says you can't legislate in," said Clark.

While the decision will not be made before October both sides are already planning their next moves and expect the case will end up before the U.S Supreme Court.


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