Reno v. Condon: Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (12/12/2000)

Reno v. Condon

Does the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 violate the constitutional principles of federalism?

Argued: 11/10/1999

Decision Date: 12/12/2000

Decision Record: 9-0; no

Justices Majority: William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer

Justices Dissenting: None

For Reno

Effect of the Decision

The court ruled Congress had the right to enact the DPPA under the Commerce Clause.

In Favor

In the favoring side of this case, on the side of Reno, attorney Seth P. Waxman argued, “We live in an age in which data bases of personal information are widely used in the national economy.

They are bought and sold, and they’re critical to national marketing, yet their dissemination threatens personal privacy and sometimes safety.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act is one of a series of laws in which Congress has balanced the benefits to commerce of disseminating personal information against the costs of that dissemination to personal security.

Beginning with the Privacy Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act in the early 1970’s, up until the Financial Services Act that was enacted just last week, Congress has acted on a sector by sector basis as new uses of personal data and new threats emerge.

In this case, Congress heard testimony that, while motor vehicle data bases are of particular value in commerce, their dissemination poses unique risks to personal safety and privacy.

Once disseminated, motor vehicle data bases are things in commerce, just as surely as are data bases that belong to financial institutions, cable operators, health care providers, and Congress may therefore regulate a State’s discharge of data into the national economy just as it restricts a State discharge of pollutants or other State activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, like operating airports, or issuing municipal bonds.”


In the opposition, on the side of Condon, Charles Condon argued, “We are for protecting privacy, and this case is not about preventing the horrible crime of stalking.

We’re against stalking.

The issue in this case is whether thousands of State officials across the country can be pressed into Federal service by the Congress to administer a Federal regulatory act.

I think if I could answer Justice Kennedy’s question, which I think goes to the heart of this case, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act is complex, it’s burdensome, it has all these exceptions, 14 exceptions, and it applies only to the States of the United States, and to follow this Federal mandate, which is unfunded, by the way, State officials must first look at it, interpret it, and then apply it to this…”


The decision of this case was unanimous. Justice William Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the court. He wrote, “We agree with South Carolina’s assertion that the DPPA’s provisions will require time and effort on the part of state employees, but reject the State’s argument that the DPPA violates the principles laid down in either New York or Printz. We think, instead, that this case is governed by our decision in South Carolina v. Baker485 U.S. 505 (1988). In Baker, we upheld a statute that prohibited States from issuing unregistered bonds because the law “regulate[d] state activities,” rather than “seek[ing] to control or influence the manner in which States regulate private parties.” Id., at 514—515. We further noted:

“The NGA [National Governor’s Association] nonetheless contends that §310 has commandeered the state legislative and administrative process because many state legislatures had to amend a substantial number of statutes in order to issue bonds in registered form and because state officials had to devote substantial effort to determine how best to implement a registered bond system. Such ‘commandeering’ is, however, an inevitable consequence of regulating a state activity. Any federal regulation demands compliance. That a State wishing to engage in certain activity must take administrative and sometimes legislative action to comply with federal standards regulating that activity is a commonplace that presents no constitutional defect.” Ibid.

    Like the statute at issue in Baker, the DPPA does not require the States in their sovereign capacity to regulate their own citizens. The DPPA regulates the States as the owners of databases. It does not require the South Carolina Legislature to enact any laws or regulations, and it does not require state officials to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes regulating private individuals. We accordingly conclude that the DPPA is consistent with the constitutional principles enunciated in New York and Printz.

    As a final matter, we turn to South Carolina’s argument that the DPPA is unconstitutional because it regulates the States exclusively. The essence of South Carolina’s argument is that Congress may only regulate the States by means of “generally applicable” laws, or laws that apply to individuals as well as States. But we need not address the question whether general applicability is a constitutional requirement for federal regulation of the States, because the DPPA is generally applicable. The DPPA regulates the universe of entities that participate as suppliers to the market for motor vehicle information–the States as initial suppliers of the information in interstate commerce and private resellers or redisclosers of that information in commerce.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the rest of the court. Congress had full right to implement the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. This act protects the privacy of the citizens and keeps states from legally being able to sell information. It doesn’t violate the Tenth or Eleventh Amendments. The Commerce Clause gives Congress permission to enforce acts such as the DPPA.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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