Supreme Court Strikes Down Strict Ariz. Voting Requirements

Posted June 17, 2013 in Government Immigration by

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Arizona cannot mandate prospective voters to provide documentation above and beyond federal requirements when they register to vote, the Supreme Court ruled today.

The high court handed down a 7-2 decision striking down the state’s law that people provide proof of citizenship to join the electorate rolls. By federal law, residents need only swear that they are citizens, and Arizona has no right to add more requirements to the process, the ruling clarifies: The states must “accept and use” the federal registration form without additional limitations.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and four other members, while Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred in part.

“States retain the flexibility to design and use their own registration forms, but the Federal Form provides a backstop: No matter what procedural hurdles a State’s own form imposes, the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available,” Scalia writes. “Arizona’s reading would permit a State to demand of Federal Form applicants every additional piece of information the State requires on its state-specific form. If that is so, the Federal Form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would be a feeble means of ‘increas[ing] the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office.'”

 Alabama, Kansas and Georgia all have similar laws to that of Arizona.


Federal Preemption

The debate behind the legal question was whether Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship rule was a legitimate way to keep undocumented residents from voting improperly. In other words, the law provided a means to block the ballots of immigrants who have obtained citizenship but might not have all the proper paperwork.

States can still deny a would-be voter’s registration if they have other evidence that the person is not a citizen.

The ruling didn’t weigh in on the merits of demanding extra identification. It instead stuck to the notion of federal law preempting state. The court did give states an avenue to try again to make proof of citizenship a requirement for registration, but they would need to go through official channels as opposed to flagrantly thumbing their metaphorical noses at federal law.

“Arizona may, however, request anew that the [Election Assistance Commission] include such a requirement among the Federal Form’s state-specific instructions, and may seek judicial review of the EAC’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act,” the opinion states.


Thomas Dissents

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from their colleagues. “I would construe the law as only requiring Arizona to accept and use the form as part of its voter registration process, leaving the State free to request whatever additional information it determines is necessary to ensure that voters meet the qualifications it has the constitutional authority to establish,” Thomas writes. “Under this interpretation, Arizona did ‘accept and use’ the federal form.”

However, the majority rules, and Arizona was dealt yet another setback to its laws and policies aimed at stricter immigration enforcement. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down most of a law that tightened various restrictions and would have forced immigrants to carry papers, and just this May a federal court told the notorious Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to quit profiling people who look Latino in an effort to catch undocumented residents.

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