Reno v. Condon

LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 98-1464
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 528 US 141 (2000)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1999
DECIDED: Jan 12, 2000

Charles Condon - Columbia, South Carolina, argued the cause for respondents
Seth P. Waxman - Department of Justice, argued the cause for petitioners

Facts of the case

State departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) require drivers and automobile owners to provide personal information, which may include a person's name, address, telephone number, Social Security number, and photograph, as a condition of obtaining a driver's license or registering an automobile. Congress enacted the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA),which establishes a regulatory scheme that restricts the States' ability to disclose a driver's personal information without the driver's consent, after finding that many States sell such information. The DPPA conflicts with South Carolina law, under which information contained in the State's DMV records is available to any person or entity that fills out a form listing the requester's name and address and stating that the information will not be used for telephone solicitation. The Attorney General of South Carolina filed suit, alleging the DPPA violated the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments. The District Court concluded that the DPPA was incompatible with the principles of federalism, granted summary judgement for the State, and permanently enjoined the DPPA's enforcement against the State. In affirming, the Court of Appeals also concluded that the DPPA violated the constitutional principles of federalism.


Does the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 violate the constitutional principles of federalism?

Media for Reno v. Condon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1999 in Reno v. Condon

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 98-1464, Janet Reno v. Charlie Condon, Attorney General of South Carolina.

General Waxman.

Seth P. Waxman:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

We live in an age in which data bases of personal information are widely used in the national economy.

They are bought and sold, and they're critical to national marketing, yet their dissemination threatens personal privacy and sometimes safety.

The Driver's Privacy Protection Act is one of a series of laws in which Congress has balanced the benefits to commerce of disseminating personal information against the costs of that dissemination to personal security.

Beginning with the Privacy Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act in the early 1970's, up until the Financial Services Act that was enacted just last week, Congress has acted on a sector by sector basis as new uses of personal data and new threats emerge.

In this case, Congress heard testimony that, while motor vehicle data bases are of particular value in commerce, their dissemination poses unique risks to personal safety and privacy.

Once disseminated, motor vehicle data bases are things in commerce, just as surely as are data bases that belong to financial institutions, cable operators, health care providers, and Congress may therefore regulate a State's discharge of data into the national economy just as it restricts a State discharge of pollutants or other State activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, like operating airports, or issuing municipal bonds.

William H. Rehnquist:

As I understand it, General Waxman, the Government says it's the Commerce Clause authority here, not anything to do with the Fourteenth Amendment.

Seth P. Waxman:

That is correct.

We have not sought this Court's review on the Fourteenth Amendment question.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And what are the other examples of Congress' choice to regulate States alone, exclusively under the Commerce Clause power, rather than general legislation?

Seth P. Waxman:

I think Justice O'Connor, that there are few examples of Congress' attempt to regulate States alone directly, as actors as opposed to the traditional preemption doctrine, because ordinarily what States do in interstate commerce is similar to what other people do, and in this case I think it's very important to recognize that this act, the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, is one of a series of laws that stretches from the 1970's until last week, in which of necessity Congress has been dealing with this kind of evolving information age on a sector-by-sector basis.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, that could be the case, but I still have my question, if there are other examples...

Seth P. Waxman:


Sandra Day O'Connor:

of Congress' choice under the Commerce Clause power to regulate exclusively the States.

Seth P. Waxman:

Well, I think the best example that I've come up with, and it's in our brief, is, for example, the regulation of the operation of commercial airports.

All commercial airports are... I believe they are all operated by State or municipal entities, and yet Congress has the authority and has given the FAA the authority to say...

John Paul Stevens:

Are you sure of that, as factual predicate for that statement?

I think there are a lot of private airports that are operated by private parties.

Seth P. Waxman:

No, I think commercial air... this was actually a subject of debate in the oral argument in Travis, in the Seventh Circuit, and I believe we went back and checked.

There are lots of private airports, but commercial airports that take commercial airliners are something that are specially regulated by Congress and the FAA.

They're operated only by State and municipal entities, and Congress can say, you can't have a runway shorter than 7,000 feet.


Anthony M. Kennedy:

But Justice O'Connor's question points up a reaction I had in reading your brief.

I thought, well, I'm going to find some cases that will show that the Federal Government can do this occasionally.

I can't find them.

And on page 35 you say, Congress may directly regulate stated activity affecting Congress, no cite, and I think the reason is, for 150 years or so the assumption has been that Congress cannot regulate States.

It regulates persons.