In a 7-2 decision today, the Supreme Court found that Arizona’s proof of citizenship law for voter registration violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Somewhat surprisingly, Justice Scalia—who in February called the Voting Rights Act “a perpetuation of racial entitlement”—wrote the opinion for the majority, finding that federal law preempted state law in this case. “We conclude that the fairest reading of the statute is that a state-imposed requirement of evidence of citizenship not required by the Federal Form is ‘inconsistent with’ the NVRA’s mandate that States ‘accept and use’ the Federal Form,” wrote Scalia. “If this reading prevails, the Elections Clause requires that Arizona’s rule give way.” The ruling is a major victory for voting rights and an affirmation of the NVRA, which has helped 141 million Americans register to vote and turned twenty last month.
Justices Thomas and Alito dissented. Wrote Thomas: “The States, not the Federal Government, have the exclusive right to define the ‘Qualifications requisite for Electors,’ which includes the corresponding power to verify that those qualifications have been met.”
Here’s the background on Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona:
In 2004, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that included provisions requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the proof of citizenship requirement, which it said violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Under the NVRA, those using a federal form to register to vote must affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Twenty-eight million people used that federal form to register to vote in 2008. Arizona’s law, the court concluded, violated the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to the documents needed to prove citizenship.”
Prop 200 has had a chilling effect on voter registration in Arizona. “Following enactment of Proposition 200, over 31,000 individuals were rejected for voter registration in Arizona,” according to a brief by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF). “Less than one-third of the rejected registrants subsequently successfully registered to vote.” The law has needlessly prevented eligible voters from registering and has made voter registration work more difficult. “The proportion of all voter registrations in [Phoenix’s] Maricopa County attributable to community-based drives decreased from 24% in 2004 to 7% in 2005, 5% in 2006 and 6% in 2007,” found MALDEF.