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Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Voting Law

Monday, June 17, 2013 19:10
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The Wall Street Journal reports:

Arizona violated the federal “Motor Voter” law when it added a proof-of-citizenship requirement to standard voter-registration forms intended for use nationwide, the Supreme Court held Monday.

The ruling comes a year after the Supreme Court struck down most of another Arizona law designed to punish illegal immigrants seeking work.

Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said federal law required states to “accept and use” the streamlined form provided by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, as the Motor Voter law is formally named.

Although federal law requires registrants to certify, under penalty of perjury, that they are U.S. citizens, it doesn’t require documentary evidence. Arizona argued that its 2004 law mandating that registrants supply concrete proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, complemented the federal requirement rather than interfering with it.

By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Motor Voter law, which was intended to streamline voter registration, didn’t authorize states to unilaterally add requirements to the standardized national form, Justice Scalia wrote.

Voter-registration groups had argued that the proof-of-citizenship requirements interfered with registration drives and other efforts to sign people up to vote.

States are still free to use their own voter-registration forms in addition to the federal form, the court said, and Arizona can require registrants to supply proof of citizenship when using the state form. Moreover, Arizona is free to cross-check information registrants supply on the federal form to ensure its accuracy, the court said.

In addition, Justice Scalia added, Arizona can ask the federal Election Assistance Commission to include state-specific requirements to the federal form.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined all or part of Justice Scalia’s opinion.

“The court has reaffirmed the essential American right to register to vote for federal election without the burdens of state voter-suppression measures,” said Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, one of the organizations representing the challengers to the Arizona law.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

Justice Alito wrote that the decision “brushes aside the constitutional authority of the states and produces truly strange results.” He said it was odd that voters’ ability to register in Arizona could depend on whether they chose the federal form or a state form requiring proof of citizenship. “I find it very hard to believe that this is what Congress had in mind,” he wrote. . . .

In April 2013, the Federalist Society’s Free Speech & Election Law Practice Group producted a podcast on the case withErik S. Jaffe, an appellate attorney and Chairman of the practice group. You can listen to it here.





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