Federal Courts and Nominations

Court knocks down Arizona law requiring voters prove citizenship

By Daniel Strauss


The Supreme Court on Monday threw out an Arizona law that required people to prove they were citizens before they could use a new federal registration system meant to make signing up to vote easier.


In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled the Arizona law was trumped by the federal “motor voter” registration law.


The decision split conservatives on the High Court, with Associate Justice Antonin Scalia writing the opinion for the majority and fellow conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissenting.


The court’s liberal wing sided with Scalia, as did Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy.


In his majority opinion, Scalia wrote that Arizona was precluded “from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself.”


Thomas, writing the dissenting opinion, argued that the U.S. Constitution “authorizes states to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections, which necessarily includes the related power to determine whether those qualifications are satisfied.”


The decision comes as a heated national debate over immigration intensifies in the Senate.


Supporters of a bipartisan immigration reform bill hope to move it out of the Senate by the end of the month with a strong vote. Republican opponents of the bill argue more provisions should be added to the bill to ensure the border is better secured.


The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday affirms a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 supersedes the Arizona’s Proposition 200, which was approved by the state’s voters in 1993.


The National Voter Act does not mandate that voters must prove citizenship in order to obtain registration forms to vote.


The liberal Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) praised the high court’s decision. 


“At a time when states are engaged in voter suppression efforts, today’s opinion is an important reaffirmation that the text and history of the Elections Clause give the federal government broad power to preempt state law in order to protect the right to vote in federal elections,” CAC Civil Rights Director David Gans said in a statement.


Arizona has repeatedly faced legal challenges over laws related to citizenship and immigration. It is the state that passed a controversial law allowing law enforcement officials to arrest people they suspect are illegal immigrants.


The law struck down by the Supreme Court on Monday is similar to measures in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee. There are also 12 other states considering similar legislation, according to the Associated Press.

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