Rutherford challenges abusive driver fees

Rutherford challenges abusive driver fees

Back in July, The Rutherford Institute threatened to do it, has done it and now has to try to do it harder. The Charlottesville-based conservative civil liberties organization is challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s abusive driver fees. The fees, which range from $750 to $3,000, set off a statewide furor this summer because they are only applied to in-state drivers.

In the latest battle over the fees, Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert H. Downer ruled that the fees are constitutional. The ruling was in response to a motion filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys on behalf of a local motorist charged with reckless driving for exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 20 miles within the City of Charlottesville. The judge did not issue a written opinion.

John Whitehead, president of the locally based Rutherford Institute, considers abusive driver fees an abuse of power by the state government.

In July, Rutherford’s founder and president, John Whitehead, sent a letter to Governor Tim Kaine, the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and the state’s attorney general threatening to challenge the fees’ constitutionality.

“We threatened to sue early on, and we raised all the issues,” says Whitehead in an interview. “There are a couple of issues that are important in this case. One is the protection issue: Why doesn’t it apply to out-of-state [drivers]? Then, the fees are onerous. Poor people have trouble paying them.”

Institute attorneys argued that the fees violated the guarantee to equal protection of the law under both state and federal constitutions. They also argued that the fees avoided the provisions of the Virginia Constitution that require fines be dedicated to the state’s Literary Fund. Currently, the fees are used for transportation.

Institute attorneys are preparing to file a notice of appeal in Charlottesville General District Court. The case is one of several across the state that have challenged the fee, says Whitehead. The results, so far, have been mixed.

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