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Arizona can't ask voters for proof of citizenship, Supreme Court rules (+video)

By 7 to 2, the Supreme Court justices struck down Arizona's Proposition 200 as violating the National Voter Registration Act, which requires only a written declaration of US citizenship.

By Staff writer / June 17, 2013

People wait in line to vote at a polling place located in a church in Phoenix, last November. The Supreme Court ruled Monday, June 17, 2013, that states cannot on their own require would-be voters to prove they are US citizens before using a federal registration system designed to make signing up easier.

Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic/AP



The US Supreme Court has struck down an Arizona requirement that state residents provide documentary proof of US citizenship before being allowed to register to vote, saying the provision violates federal law.

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In a 7-to-2 decision, the high court said Monday the state provision violated the terms of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which demands only a written declaration by the would-be registrant that he or she is a US citizen.

In contrast, Arizona’s Proposition 200 required applicants for voter registration to present a driver's license, a naturalization ID number, or a photocopy of a birth certificate to register to vote.

“We hold that [the NVRA] precludes Arizona from requiring a Federal Form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority justices.

Opponents of the Arizona measure said it would prevent or discourage some citizens from going to the polls. Arizona officials defended Prop. 200 as an acceptable safeguard to prevent ineligible voters from corrupting the election process.

Critics of the Arizona provision hailed the high court decision as a protection to a broadly open election process.

“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,” Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said in a statement.

“At a time when states are engaging 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,” said David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Others saw potential trouble in the high court’s action.

“The Supreme Court today opened the door to noncitizen voting by striking down Arizona’s voter registration proof-of-citizenship requirement,” said Tom Caso, a professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif.

At the heart of the dispute was whether Congress preempted state governments in passing the 1993 NVRA, or whether states like Arizona were free to impose additional requirements to prove citizenship during the process of registering new voters.

The case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (12-71), represented the second time in a year that the high court has examined whether a tough Arizona law dealing to a significant degree with immigrants was preempted by more lenient federal law.

A year ago, the court struck down a portion of Arizona’s effort to enforce its own immigration law – SB 1070 – in response to what the state saw as lax federal enforcement of immigration laws and ineffective policing of the border with Mexico.

The high court upheld the most controversial part of that Arizona law, the portion requiring law enforcement officials to check the immigration status during a lawful stop of anyone they had reason to believe was in the United States illegally.


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