Supreme Court to Arizona: You Can’t Block Driver’s Licenses for DREAMers

Dec 17, 2014
4:30 PM

In a short order, the U.S. Supreme Court today denied Arizona’s last-ditch request to block issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented students granted deportation relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.


This lawsuit has been moving through the courts for years. Shortly after DACA was announced in 2012, the administration of outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer issued an order prohibiting beneficiaries under DACA to obtain driver’s licenses. A number of civil rights organizations joined forces to challenge the legality of Brewer’s order in federal court.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Arizona, agreed with the civil rights organizations that Brewer’s policy was likely discriminatory towards undocumented youth and ordered the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division to treat them as they would other groups of noncitizens who can show employment authorization documents as proof of residency.

Dissatisfied with the decision, Arizona asked the same court for a rehearing, which was denied. Finally, Arizona asked the Supreme Court to halt the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. The high court denied that request today.

Interestingly, three justices —Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas— would have temporarily granted Arizona’s request to halt driver’s licenses. The same justices dissented in the 2012 case Arizona v. United States, which struck down important parts of SB1070, Arizona’s infamous show-me-your-papers law.

The case is not over: Arizona only requested a halt to the order forcing the state to accept DREAMers’ papers for purposes of driver’s licenses. The case is technically still “live” in the lower courts, which means there hasn’t been a definitive pronouncement that Brewer’s policy is unconstitutional.

But given the July ruling and today’s move by the Supreme Court, it’s likely Arizona will simply give up the fight and reach some sort of settlement with the plaintiffs. Who knows—maybe by the time Brewer leaves office, the policy denying DREAMers’ access to driver’s licenses will leave with her, too.


Cristian Farías is a writer and lawyer. You can follow him @cristianafarias.