Driver’s License Revocation Law drives Tennesseans into an Irrational Cycle of Debt and Punishment

he state of Tennessee revokes the driver’s license of any person who fails to pay fines, costs, and litigation taxes associated with a criminal conviction for a year or more. It does this even when the defendant is too poor to pay. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee struck down the law as violating the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection. The Institute for Justice (IJ) and the Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief last week urging the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to affirm that decision and find this irrational and harmful law unconstitutional.

The law at issue, Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-24-105(b), is one of dozens across the country that revokes or suspends a driver’s license to create an incentive to pay court fines. However, the law is irrational—the state is trying to get people to pay a debt they cannot pay by taking away their means of getting to work to earn the money to pay the debt. As IJ and FFJC point out in their brief, 86% of Americans drive to work and 93.4% of Tennesseans drive to work. Losing a driver’s license often means losing one’s job or losing the ability to get a new job. Quite simply, a driver’s license is a key factor in financial security.