I Don't Need No Stinkin' Papers


In a couple of weeks, Deborah Davis is scheduled to be arraigned on federal misdemeanor charges for refusing to show her ID while riding a public bus that crosses the Denver Federal Center, a 90-building complex that includes offices of the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Archives. According to her Web site, Davis was riding to work on September 26 when a guard boarded the bus at the complex and asked for her ID. She refused to comply, arguing that she had no legal obligation to carry ID, let alone present it on command. The guard disagreed, and so did the two other officers he summoned, who eventually dragged her off the bus and handcuffed her.

Davis' lawyers (whose services were arranged by the ACLU of Colorado) expect the government to cite two regulations. One says that on federal property closed to the general public, officials must "restrict admission to the property, or the affected portion, to authorized persons who must register upon entry to the property and must, when requested, display Government or other identifying credentials to Federal police officers or other authorized individuals when entering, leaving or while on the property." The other says "persons in and on [federal] property must at all times comply with…the lawful direction of Federal police officers and other authorized individuals." Presumably the government will argue that the first rule makes a demand for ID on a bus that happens to cross federal property a "lawful direction."

Davis' Web site explains the issue at stake this way:

Deborah Davis' case is about one thing: the right to travel.

The reason why she was charged has absolutely nothing to do with security. The guard at the Denver Federal Center wasn't checking IDs against a "no ride" list: there is no such thing. The demands made against Deb Davis were nothing more than a compliance test, a demand that she kowtow to officialdom. And lest we forget, having to show your ID is a search without a warrant….[The case will] determine whether Deb and the rest of us live in a free society, or in a country where we must show 'papers' whenever a cop demands them.

You decide: Is Deborah Davis a freedom fighter, or (as I'm sure the cops would have it) just a pain in the ass?

A couple of years ago, Reason's Brian Doherty reported on a similar crusade by software multimillionaire John Gilmore. By a strange coincidence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Gilmore's case the day before Davis' arraignment.