William F. Buckley

It was thought in California to cleave a distinction. Illegals couldn't get a driver's license, but they could get a "driving certificate." This would permit you to transport lemons from one end of the state to the other, but would not serve as proof of age to get a drink at the bar -- or as ID to board an airplane.

In the raging quarrel in New York, a parliamentary point is introduced: What gave Gov. Eliot Spitzer the authority to specify, without consulting the state legislature, who qualified for a driver's license? That is among the criticisms leveled at Gov. Spitzer's decision to allow illegals to acquire driver's licenses.

The governor argues that doing so will actually strengthen law enforcement, by bringing illegals "out of the shadows." But this is only part of the larger question, which is: How do we treat illegals?

Some years ago, again in California, it was proposed that at the very least we should not fork over money to educate illegals, or to pay their doctors' bills, let alone bills that came in from doctors and nurses who had expedited the arrival of more children born to illegals. Proposition 187 passed handily, but opponents promptly took it to court, on the grounds that whether a person is legally in the United States or illegally here, he is nevertheless a person, and as such, protected by the terms of the 14th Amendment ("nor shall any state ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws").

So, a nice try by Gov. Spitzer, but no cigar. He and his party will need to come up with measures more substantive than wordplay to cope with this problem, which derives from progressive assaults on the powers and responsibilities of nationhood.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.