A WIN FOR VOTING RIGHTS: On June 17, the Supreme Court handed down a 7–2 opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently called the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” So it was surprising to see him take the lead in a decision that helps protect voting rights.
The ruling, in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, goes back to 2004, when Arizona approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that required proof of citizenship to register to vote. The law had a chilling effect: 31,000 people had their registration forms rejected after its enactment, and the percentage of voters enrolled through registration drives in Maricopa County fell from 24 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in 2007.
Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the proof-of-citizenship requirement after finding that it infringed on the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Under the NVRA, those using a federal form to register must already affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Some 28 million people used the form to register in 2008. Arizona’s law infringed on the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. (According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to proof of citizenship documentation.”)
The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Ninth Circuit ruling has broader significance. First, conservatives like Scalia, who have been skeptical of congressional precedent, affirmed that Congress does indeed play an important role in determining the rules for federal elections. Second, Arizona had been the model for proof-of-citizenship laws more recently adopted in states like Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. The ruling could serve as a deterrent for states that are considering making it harder for potential voters to register. ARI BERMAN
THE US MEDIA: OUT OF STEP ON SYRIA It was heartening to hear President Obama making dovish sounds regarding Syria when he went on Charlie Rose on June 17, just days after charging the Bashar al-Assad regime with using chemical agents against its foes and promising to supply the rebels with US weapons. One has to wonder if Obama has returned to heeding the American people on this issue after his dalliance with the many hawks in Congress and in his own administration.
The media, particularly broadcast and cable TV, have overwhelmingly featured Democrats backing Obama’s decision to send weapons, with hawkish Republicans pushing for even stronger action and the critics of intervention given little face time. McClatchy stood alone in questioning the White House’s evidence on Assad’s use of chemical weapons. And despite earlier polls showing Americans’ opposition to involvement in Syria, hawks cried that the news of chemical agents would be a game changer.