Your State Can't Tell My State What to Do

Posted On February 12, 2014 by Daniel Koewler

Minnesota is its own sovereign power, meaning that it's free to wield its authority how it wants, more or less, so long as the wielding is done within its borders. Cross the line into Wisconsin to the east, Iowa to the south, or the Dakotas to the west â?? each of which are their own sovereign powers â?? and Minnesota's authority goes limp.

The individual states, in other words, generally cannot tell each other what to do. But that's exactly what happened in a recent case involving a truck driver's Commercial Driver's License.

The driver, a young single father from North Carolina, was picked up while on a haul in Minnesota for driving under the influence. He blew .051, over the .04 limit for CDL holders, so the Minnesota sovereignty, in the form of its Department of Public Safety, promptly stripped the man's CDL from him. Note that his CDL was issued by North Carolina, not Minnesota.

Now, you would expect the Department of Public Safety to yank a commercial driver's license whenever a driver is accused of being over the legal limit. Here's the language of the DPS's Commercial Driver Disqualification notice, as written on the notice given to our driver from North Carolina:

"You cannot drive a commercial motor vehicle in Minnesota or any other state while your driving privilege is disqualified. Although you may use the card for identification, it is against the law to present it as a valid commercial driver's license or permit.| [Emphasis added.]

Again, this is the notice put in the hands of the truck driver in this story. And the driver, obeying the DPS imperative not to drive anywhere in the country, stopped driving, despite having a family to care for.

We took one look at this case and said, |this isn't right, and we need to fix this.|

What did we need to fix? Take a closer look at that |emphasis added| part, the part in bold font, which states that this commercial driver was forbidden from driving â?? not only in Minnesota â?? but in any other state, including his home state of North Carolina.

Minnesota's sovereignty grew an extra arm or leg, apparently. At most, Minnesota can notify North Carolina about a driver's DWI arrest and CDL violation, but cannot rescind the driver's right to use his CDL in North Carolina. That's North Carolina's call. So in this case we argued that DPS's Commercial Driver Disqualification notice was misleading, and because it was misleading, it violated our client's due process rights.

The judge agreed, and rescinded our client's CDL revocation and disqualification. And that's just one example of the type of ingenuity and zeal that it takes to be an effective DWI attorney.