U.S. Department of Transportation to Investigate Possible Discrimination through Alabama Driver License Office Closures
WASHINGTON — Today, following widespread closures and reduction in services at driver license offices across Alabama, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will investigate whether these actions by the State and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal assistance.
“Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation is making it clear that Title VI is not optional and that we will work to make sure all of its components are enforced,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Driver License Offices offer essential services to the American people, including providing thousands in Alabama with a method of identification. It is critical that these services be free of discrimination, and serve the people of the state fairly and equally.”
On September 30, the State of Alabama announced the closure and reduction in services at 34 drivers licensing offices throughout the state. Preliminary information acquired by the Department suggests the reduction in drivers licensing services resulting from these closures may discriminate against Alabama's African American residents.
The Department’s Title VI regulation -- set forth at 49 CFR Part 21 -- further clarifies that non-discrimination obligations under Title VI extend to all entities involved in administering programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance. The State of Alabama and ALEA, in particular, receive substantial Federal assistance from the Department and, therefore, are subject to Title VI’s nondiscrimination prohibition.
“It is our obligation to ensure that recipients of federal funding are in compliance with federal laws that guarantee equal access and opportunity for all,” said Departmental Civil Rights Acting Director Stephanie Jones. “Our concern rests in the possibility that the State’s closure of driver license offices disproportionately constrains the ability of some residents to secure driving privileges, register personal and commercial vehicles, and obtain proper identification –a critical requirement for access to essential activities such as opening a bank account and voting.”
The Department has not reached any conclusions about the subject matter of the investigation, and during the course of the investigation, will consider all relevant information, including the efforts the State has undertaken to ensure compliance with federal law. DOT is responsible for enforcing Title VI provisions and may, in some circumstances, suspend or terminate Federal funds to enforce Title VI and its implementing regulations.