(This is an edited excerpt from an article that originally appeared on Scott Bradford: Off on a Tangent in 2013.)
I have a state-issued driver’s license and motorcycle endorsement. It was issued by the government of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it authorizes me to operate an automobile or motorcycle on public roads. It also authorizes me to operate an automobile or motorcycle in the neighboring jurisdictions of Washington, D.C., and Maryland. In fact, it authorizes me to operate these types of vehicles anywhere in the United States, as it should. Imagine the chaos if Illinois decided it wouldn’t recognize Virginia driver’s licenses, or if California wouldn’t recognize Oregon’s, or if Texas wouldn’t recognize New Hampshire’s.
Each of the fifty states are required by the U.S. Constitution to afford ‘full faith and credit’ to the official actions of each of the other states. When I travel to any other state in the country, their governments have no authority to question my Virginia-issued driver’s license. It is perfectly valid, no less so than if my license had been issued by the state in-which I am traveling. And that is that.
This recognition is not, and should not be, completely unlimited. For example, if I actually move to a different state, my new state government has every right to require that I get a new license issued by them, and that I follow their rules. For example, let’s say (for the sake of argument) that South Dakota will only issue driver’s licenses to people over the age of twenty-one, while Virginia will issue them to anybody over sixteen. If I happen to be a Virginia resident with a Virginia license, South Dakota must recognize it if I happen to be passing through…even if I am only eighteen. But if I move to South Dakota, they may require that I obtain a South Dakota license within sixty days (or whatever) to maintain my driving privileges. As a resident of South Dakota, they have every right to refuse to issue a new license until I comply with their requirements — that I be twenty-one or older, in this example.
Unfortunately, the ‘full faith and credit’ clause is often not applied appropriately by either state or federal governments. For example, in addition to my Virginia-issued driver’s license, I also have a Virginia-issued concealed handgun permit (CHP). But while my driver’s license is recognized as valid anywhere in the United States, my CHP is only recognized by a sub-set of states that have agreed to CHP reciprocity with Virginia. It is also completely disregarded on most federal properties, aside from some limited recognition in national parks. This is blatantly, undeniably unconstitutional. My CHP should be valid anywhere in the United States, just like any other valid state-issued license, under the ‘full faith and credit’ clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The nitty-gritty details of each state’s requirements and procedures are irrelevant. Maybe Oklahoma is too lax in issuing driver’s licences. Maybe Montana is too lax in issuing CHP’s. Maybe California is too restrictive in issuing driver’s licenses. Maybe Massachusetts is too restrictive in issuing CHP’s. None of this matters. Each state must respect duly-issued licenses from other states, at least when dealing with non-residents. The federal government must also respect these state-issued licenses.
Although it should not be necessary, if elected president I will advocate for complete ‘full faith and credit’ recognition of concealed handgun permits across state lines.