“In discussions I participated in with the Department of Homeland Security, they were asked point blank, ‘What will happen to states that don’t participate?'” said Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who was on the call. “The response was, ‘Nothing will happen. There will be no penalty. You can still get on a plane.'”
States began defying the feds, passing laws saying that they had no intention of complying with the REAL ID requirements. The federal government retorted that this was fine, but citizens from those states could not use drivers’ licenses to enter federal buildings or board aircraft (which are screened by federal personnel).
In the face of this sort of opposition, DHS extended the deadline for compliance to 2009, and then again to 2013. Now, it could be extended again, and states could get even more time to issue cards for older drivers (apparently less of a security threat).
Whether the new rules are an expedient compromise or a total backpedalling from the goals of REAL ID depends on who you ask. The ACLU, for instance, holds strong views on the matter.
“DHS is essentially whittling Real ID down to nothing—all in the name of denying Real ID is a failure,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani. “Real ID is in its death throes, and any signs of life are just last gasps.”