US Supreme Court Strikes Down Proof of Citizenship Voting Law
This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship from residents as they register to vote is invalid because it violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Through the NVRA, a standardized federal form is provided to all states to keep voter registration uniform across the nation. But Arizona passed a state law in 2004, Proposition 200, that requested additional information such as hard-copy documents proving one’s citizenship in order to register. This created burdens and barriers to the ballot for many Native and Latino Americans in Arizona. Today’s decision lifts the proof of citizenship law from Arizona’s law books.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion:
“We hold that [federal election law] precludes Arizona from requiring a Federal Form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself. 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.”
This was an important victory for voting rights, especially given that a favorable opinion came from Justice Scalia, whose comments on voting rights lately have been discouraging. In March, after oral arguments concerning the case, Justice Scalia said he saw nothing wrong with requesting a birth certificate to register to vote. As noted in his conclusion above, he is encouraging Arizona to appeal to the federal Election Assistance Commission board to have them require additional information — like proof of citizenship — for federal registration forms. If the EAC did adopt such measures, then people across the nation would have to show forms like birth certificates to register, which would chiefly burden people of color.
“Today’s decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law,” stated Nina Perales, Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund’s Vice President of Litigation and lead counsel for the voters who challenged the Arizona law. “The Supreme Court has affirmed that all U.S. citizens have the right to register to vote using the national postcard, regardless of the state in which they live.”
MALDEF President and General Counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, stated, “Arizona, and those states that choose to follow its irresponsible legislating, received a strong message today. The federal government has, through the NVRA, made clear that states may not place unnecessary and unreasonable obstacles to voter participation.”
Read Aura Bogado’s story “From Arizona to Montana, Native Voters Struggle for Democracy” here for further background.