You may have read various and sundry stories in the news warning you that residents of some states whose drivers licenses are not up to federal "Real I.D." snuff will need a passport to get on a plane for even domestic travel next year, thanks to some weight-throwing by the Department of Homeland Security to enforce the federal law the states are rejecting.
Jim Harper at the Cato Institute, who has studied the issues intensively, thinks those fears fail to recognize some political realities and the tortured history of the undoubtedly dumb and awful Real I.D. laws:
DHS's latest story is that it might start to enforce REAL ID in 2016. It won't.
Contrary to DHS claims, not one state is in compliance with the national ID law. Not one. Some years ago, the department created a whittled down "material compliance checklist," and it has freely given out deadline extensions to states that make enough of a show that they might go along with the federal government's plans.
The story now being spun is that TSA will categorically turn away people from a small group of remaining outlier states—if you can actually call New York small—when enforcement starts next year. I am 100% certain they will not. Every state will be out of compliance for the entire year, and the TSA will not implement a policy of refusing travelers from non-compliant states.
It's not that they theoretically couldn't do this; it's just that a reasonable understanding of the way the world works leads him to predict they will not actually try:
The reason for my confidence is a basic understanding of the politics involved. If TSA—perhaps the most despised U.S. federal agency in history—refuses people the right to travel because they do not carry a national ID, the uproar will be intense and lasting. The lawsuits that follow such an action will make their heads spin….
Harper calls for states to continue to ignore the Real I.D. law:
State officials who do similar calculations from their end realize that they don't have to follow federal mandates this time, or ever, and that their states will be worse off if they do. All this issue requires is a little sunlight.
Americans, you don't have to have a passport to fly domestically. American states, you don't have to obey federal national ID mandates. America, you don't need to comply with the REAL ID Act.
David Weigel wrote a feature for us in 2008 on the early travails of this bad law and state efforts to circumvent and/or ignore it. More recent history on the failed attempt to force it down state's throats.