The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today that it would be launching investigation to Alabama’s decision to shut down reduce services at 34 state drivers license offices to see whether the move violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to release from local U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown, the state and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency — which manages the driver’s license offices — receive substantial federal assistance from the DOT.Therefore, the offices are subject to the Civil Rights Act, a component of which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs receiving federal assistance.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Greater Birmingham Ministries filed the federal lawsuit earlier this month claiming the shutdown of those offices — many of which were in counties with high percentages of minority residents — disenfranchised “at least 280,000 people” because of a recently passed voter identification law.
State officials, including Gov. Robert Bentley, have downplayed allegations of any intentional discrimination. Only few hours after the investigation was announced on Wednesday, Bentley responded with a statement from Montgomery.“Due to legislative budget cuts, in September 2015, the ALEA reallocated driver’s license examination personnel back to the district driver’s license offices on a full time basis. Prior to this budget decision, these examiners, who are state employees, were traveling to each county level probate office or courthouse once or twice a week to provide the service of examination,” Bentley said. “I made the decision in October 2015 to ensure that an examiner report to each county level office at least once a month to continue providing this service.”
Bentley said the Obama administration’s claims are untrue and said other “opportunistic politicians such as Hillary Clinton” have politicized the issue to “serve their own agenda.”
“This USDOT investigation is nothing more than a weak attempt to embarrass the people of Alabama and exploit our state in the name of a political agenda,” Bentley said. “I am confident that the USDOT investigation will find no basis for the claims of discrimination.”