In 1994, Congress pass a bill, with President approval, that withheld ten percent of federal highway funds from states who fail to penalize drug offenders by suspending the drivers license for six months. A condition the federal government placed on the grants for highway funds is states’ must suspend the drivers license for any drug conviction, regardless of severity, including marijuana possession. However, states do have the ability to “opt out” by passing their own state law stating they will not suspend drivers licenses for such violations. The clause was used by Congress in the hope that states would not want to be recognized for allowing drug offenders to keep their license, but most states opted out.
Both California and Utah sued the Secretary of Transportation for the release of funds. California legislature challenged the federal law in light of the withholding of federal highway funds were not related to the suspension of drivers licenses, and the “opt out” clause was not a rational or uniform national policy. California’s legislature is arguing this requirement is to initiate debate between the governor and the state legislature. The requirement for the governor and legislature to agree or forcing the legislature majority to override a gubernatorial veto violates the state’s sovereignty basic function and specifically the absence of a uniform national policy.
Utah passes a law that suspends drug offenders drivers license for all drug violations, however, Utah has also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and redefined offense as a misdemeanor: “burning without a permit. The Secretary of Transportation believes Utah’s motive to decriminalize and redefine the offense violates the federal requirement and is withholding the federal highway funds. Utah is now suing for the release of funds, arguing the state has complied with the federal regulation and that crimes against state law are central to the state’s sovereignty, which is not supported the South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S.203, (1987), doctrine. Utah has also brought to light there is an absence of federal uniform drug laws and sentencing for violations.
1. Does Congress have the authority to withhold federal highway funds from states who fail to comply with suspending drug offender’s drivers license for six months, or failing to “opt out” by the state passing a law that specifically states they will not suspend drivers license for drug violations?
2. Does Congress intrude on the state sovereignty by requiring the state legislature and governor to debate about a particular federal regulation?
3. Does Utah fail to comply with the conditions placed upon the federal highway funds by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, then reclassifying as a misdemeanor “burning without a permit?”
Firstly, Congress does have the authority to withhold federal grant moneys from states’ that fail to comply with conditions...