Reno v. Condon,
528 U.S. 141 (2000)

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No. 98-1464. Argued November 10, 1999-Decided January 12,2000

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, vehicle description, Social Security number, medical information, and photograph, as a condition of obtaining a driver's license or registering an automobile. Finding that many States sell this information to individuals and businesses for significant revenues, 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. South Carolina law conflicts with the DPPA's provisions. Following the DPPA's enactment, South Carolina and its Attorney General filed this suit, alleging that the DPPA violates the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments to the United States Constitution. Concluding that the DPPA is incompatible with the principles of federalism inherent in the Constitution's division of power between the States and the Federal Government, the District Court granted summary judgment for the State and permanently enjoined the DPPA's enforcement against the State and its officers. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the DPPA violates constitutional principles of federalism.

Held: In enacting the DPPA, Congress did not run afoul of the federalism principles enunciated in New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144, and Printz v. United States, 521 U. S. 898. The Federal Government correctly asserts that the DPPA is a proper exercise of Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause, U. S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 3. The motor vehicle information, which the States have historically sold, is used by insurers, manufacturers, direct marketers, and others engaged in interstate commerce to contact drivers with customized solicitations. The information is also used in the stream of interstate commerce by various public and private entities for matters related to interstate motoring. Because drivers' personal, identifying information is, in this context, an article of commerce, its sale or release into the interstate stream of business is sufficient to



support congressional regulation. See United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 558-559. This does not conclusively resolve the DPPA's constitutionality because in New York and Printz the Court held that federal statutes were invalid, not because Congress lacked legislative authority over the subject matter, but because those statutes violated Tenth Amendment federalism principles. However, the DPPA does not violate those principles. This case is instead governed by South Carolina v. Baker, 485 U. S. 505, in which a statute prohibiting States from issuing unregistered bonds was upheld because it regulated state activities, rather than seeking to control or influence the manner in which States regulated private parties, id., at 514-515. Like that statute, the DPPA does not require the States in their sovereign capacity to regulate their own citizens; rather, it regulates the States as the owners of data bases. It does not require the South Carolina Legislature to enact any laws or regulations, as did the statute at issue in New York, and it does not require state officials to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes regulating private individuals, as did the law considered in Printz. Thus, the DPPA is consistent with the principles set forth in those cases. The Court need not address South Carolina's argument that the DPPA unconstitutionally regulates the States exclusively rather than by means of a generally applicable law. The DPPA is generally applicable because it regulates the universe of entities that participate as suppliers to the market for motor vehicle information-the States as initial suppliers of the information in interstate commerce and private resellers or redisclosers of that information in commerce. Pp. 148-151.

155 F.3d 453, reversed.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Solicitor General Waxman argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Acting Assistant Attorney General Ogden, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Paul R. Q. Wolfson, Mark B. Stern, and Alisa B. Klein.

Charlie Condon, pro se, Attorney General of South Carolina, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the briefs were Treva Ashworth, Deputy Attorney General, and Kenneth P. Woodington, Senior Assistant Attorney General. *

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Electronic Privacy Information Center by Marc Rotenberg; for the Feminist Majority

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding

Congress does not impermissibly commandeer states when it regulates their activities without requiring them to regulate the activities of their citizens.


The disclosure and resale of personal information in the records of state motor vehicle departments was subject to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994, a federal law. Some of its sections clashed with South Carolina law, and the state argued that the federal statute violated the Tenth Amendment. It prevailed in the lower courts.



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Antonin Scalia
  • Sandra Day O'Connor
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Stephen G. Breyer
  • David H. Souter

Since insurers, manufacturers, marketers, and other parties in interstate commerce use the information in the records of the state motor vehicle departments, this information may be classified as a thing in interstate commerce. This gives Congress the power to regulate it under the Commerce Clause, but its power remains subject to federalism concerns. The Tenth Amendment is not violated here, however, since the federal law does not compel the state to enact legislation or regulations, or to enforce the federal law through its own agents.

Case Commentary

While Congress cannot force the states to expend legislative or administrative resources in enforcing a federal law, states still may be affected by federal laws and must bow to them under the Supremacy Clause.

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