Supreme Court- Ariz. Citizenship Proof Law Illegal
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states cannot require would-be voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before using a federal registration system designed to make signing up easier.
The justices voted 7-2 to throw out Arizona’s voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal “Motor Voter” voter registration law.
Federal law “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself,” Justice Antonia Scalia wrote for the court’s majority.
The court was considering the legality of Arizona’s requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal “motor voter” registration law. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which doesn’t require such documentation, trumps Arizona’s Proposition 200 passed in 2004.
Scalia’s majority opinion (PDF) found that the Arizona law conflicts with a federal “motor voter” law. The federal law allows would-be voters to mail in a registration form, without supplying proof of citizenship. Instead, the federal law says, those signing the form need only swear that they are citizens.
Scalia said states weren’t entirely hamstrung, however. They may still reject would-be voters based on information establishing they are ineligible. Also, they may ask the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to alter the federal form to include information they need to determine eligibility. If the commission rejects a request, the states may appeal. In the case before the court, Arizona wasn’t able to persuade the commission to change the form, but it may still appeal, Scalia said.
Scalia had appeared to side with Arizona in March oral arguments. At that time, he had suggested that it would be fine for a state to ensure the integrity of its voting system when the federal form is lacking. “When the commission fails to do what enables the state to assess qualifications, the state will do it,” he said. “No problemo.”
The 7-2 opinion in opinion in Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council is based on the elections clause, which allows Congress to pre-empt state regulations governing the “times, places and manner” of holding congressional elections.