Supreme Court To Decide on Proof of Citizenship for Voting
The Supreme Court today said that it would hear arguments over whether states can require proof of citizenship from residents when they register to vote. However, the hearings and ruling will probably not come until next year and will have no effect on November’s presidential election.
The case stems from a 2004 Arizona law that mandated proof of citizenship as a requirement for people wishing to register to vote in the state, among other provisions. Acceptable documents included a driver’s license number, naturalization papers, a birth certificate or passport. A number of groups including Native American tribes sued, arguing that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by imposing a more stringent test for registration than condoned by federal law.
The Arizona law was designed to make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to vote. In effect, opponents argue, it makes it more difficult for legal voters as well, including Native Americans and Mexican-American citizens.
This spring, a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the citizenship test portion of the law. The state could not force people to go above and beyond the registration requirements on the form provided by the federal government, which asks would-be voters if they are United States citizens but does not require them to provide proof.
“The ruling on the registration provision is very important,” wrote Loyola Law School Professor Richard L. Hasen on the Election Law Blog at the time of the 9th Circuit decision. “Arizona must accept the ‘federal form’ . . . which does not require proof of citizenship. Congress has the power to make Arizona accept this form under the Elections Clause of the Constitution.”
The decision essentially gave the federal government carte blanche to regulate any state polling procedure that will effect elections to a federal position. States in general are expected to run elections under their own discretion but the Elections Clause in the Constitution gives the federal government the power to “make or alter such regulations.”
Now, the Supreme Court will get the final say sometime next year.
“The new Arizona voting rights case is important not only because of the citizenship proof requirement, but perhaps even more so because it calls on the Court to sort out the cooperative but sometimes conflicting roles of the state governments and Congress in regulating election procedures,” writes legal reporter Lyle Denniston on the Scotusblog. “In granting review . . . the Justices appeared to have signaled their keen interest in the way the lower court interpreted the Elections Clause and its preemptive effect.”
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