Group Calls Driver's License Law Unconstitutional, Files Lawsuit

Times Staff Writer

Opponents of a controversial law that would grant California driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants on Monday expanded their campaign to repeal the measure with a lawsuit alleging that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to call a special legislative session on Nov. 18 aimed at repealing the driver's license law. Opponents of the new law are also gathering signatures aimed at repealing it in a statewide referendum in March.

Schwarzenegger has made clear to lawmakers that he is determined to have the law, Senate Bill 60, repealed either by the Legislature or by referendum. He has not responded to offers by the law's principal author, Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), to amend it in order to address the concerns of opponents.

Cedillo said in a telephone interview that he has been meeting with elected officials, law enforcement officers and labor and community leaders to reach a consensus on what action -- if any -- should be taken in response to Schwarzenegger's quest to have the law repealed.

The driver's license law was approved without a single Republican vote.

But the solid Democratic support for the measure has wavered since Schwarzenegger's recall election victory, and even some Latino lawmakers -- speaking on the condition of anonymity -- say they prefer legislative repeal of the law to head off a public backlash against Democrats that a statewide referendum campaign could trigger.

In the meantime, however, the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation is asking a state appeals court in Sacramento to overturn the law on the grounds that it infringes on federal authority over immigration and national security and facilitates illegal voter registration.

The suit was filed directly with the appeals court because the state Constitution requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to enforce the law until an appellate court rules it unconstitutional, said William S. Mount, an attorney with the Sacramento-based foundation.

Supporters of the new law disputed the suit's claims.

"States enact laws all of the time that affect immigrants and those laws don't threaten the sovereignty of the United States government," said Vibinia Andrade, an attorney and vice president of public policy for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles. "This driver's license law is no different."

Andrade also disputed the claim that the law would facilitate voter fraud. MALDEF is studying the suit and will probably intervene on behalf of the DMV, she said.

Gov. Gray Davis signed the legislation on Sept. 5 after twice vetoing similar bills, saying they lacked sufficient safeguards to prevent the licenses from being used by terrorists. Explaining his reversal, Davis said giving driver's licenses to immigrants who work hard and pay taxes was "the right thing to do."

A spokeswoman for Davis, deputy press secretary Hilary McLean, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday November 13, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction Driver's licenses -- A report in Tuesday's California section about a suit challenging a new law that would give driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants misspelled the name of an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Vibiana Andrade, as Vibinia.
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