(CN) - Uncle Sam overstepped his bounds in refusing to let Arizona and Kansas request proof of citizenship when registering voter, a federal judge ruled.
The states had sued the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in Kansas last year after the agency blocked the Republican-led states from requiring citizenship documents with federal voter-registration forms.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren found Wednesdya that the Election Assistance Commission's "nondiscretionary duty is to perform the ministerial function of updating the instructions to reflect each state's laws," and the agency had no right to deny requests from Kansas and Arizona to add proof of citizenship to federal voter registration forms.
"Congress has not preempted state laws requiring proof of citizenship" through the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which is silent on the issue, the 28-page opinion states.
The qualifications clause of the U.S. Constitution authorizes states to set voter qualifications, and "Arizona and Kansas have established that their state laws require their election officials to assess the eligibility of voters by examining proof of their U.S. citizenship beyond a mere oath," Melgren wrote.
The U.S. Supreme Court found last year in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona that federal law pre-empted the requirement that Arizonans prove their citizenship to register as voters. A number of groups and individuals, including the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, alleged that the registration portion of the law violated the NVRA.
"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," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in July.
Melgren noted Wednesday how "the ITCA opinion establishes that there is a point at which the EAC loses whatever discretion it possesses to determine the contents of the state-specific instructions," and the agency could add the citizenship requirement to the forms.
Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the U.S., called the decision "profoundly disappointing."
"The judge didn't follow the roadmap laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Arizona v. ITCA decision, which allowed for consideration of new factual and constitutional issues," MacNamara said in a statement. "Instead, the court chose to reopen the issue of federal preemption by questioning the actions of the EAC in rejecting the Arizona and Kansas requests to modify the National Mail Voter Registration Form."
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne was pleased with the decision, claiming in a statement that there is "a media cover-up of the seriousness of voter fraud in Arizona," and the ruling is an "important victory for the people of Arizona against the Obama Administration, assuring that only Arizona residents and not illegals, vote in Arizona elections."
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