No Proof of Citizenship to Register to Vote in Ariz.

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Arizonans need not prove their citizenship to register as voters, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, finding the federal law pre-empts the requirement.
     The state had amended its election code with Proposition 200 in 2004, which said voters would have to show proof of citizenship at the polls and provide such proof as well when they registered to vote.
     A number of groups and individuals, including the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, League of Women Voters, The League of United Latin American Citizens Arizona and the Hopi Tribe, filed suit. They claimed that the registration portion of the law violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), and that the polling-place provision amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax, violating the equal protection clause and the 14th Amendment.
     After the initial motion for a preliminary injunction made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and back, Chief U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver in Phoenix ruled for Arizona on all claims.
     Two of the plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit, where a three-judge panel upheld the polling-place provision but found that the NVRA superseded the registration provision.
     After agreeing to rehear the issue en banc, the court handed down a similar ruling in April.
     In October 2012, the Supreme Court decided to reconsider the registration requirement.
     With two dissents, the court affirmed Monday that the requirement could not stand.
     The majority decision begins with Justice Antonin Scalia noting that the NVRA requires states to “accept and use” a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections.
     “The contents of that form (colloquially known as the federal form) are prescribed by a federal agency, the Election Assistance Commission,” according to the ruling.
     “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,” Scalia wrote. If this reading prevails, the elections clause requires that Arizona’s rule give way.”
     Scalia concluded by noting that Arizona can still “request that the EAC alter the federal form to in­clude information the state deems necessary to determine eligibility, and may challenge the EAC’s rejection of that request in a suit under the Administrative Procedure Act.”
     The EAC had been split 2-2 when Arizona requested such a change in 2005, according to the ruling.
     “Arizona did not challenge that agency action (or rather inaction) by seeking APA review in federal court, but we are aware of nothing that prevents Arizona from renewing its request,” Scalia wrote.
     Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined the majority in part, separately filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in judgment.
     “There is no sound basis for the court to rule, for the first time, that there exists a hierarchy of federal powers so that some statutes pre-empting state law must be interpreted by different rules than others, all depending upon which power Congress has exercised,” Kennedy wrote. “If the court is skeptical of the basic idea of a presumption against pre­emption as a helpful instrument of construction in express pre-emption cases, it should say so and apply that skepticism across the board.”
     The NVRA nevertheless unambiguously pre-empts Arizona’s law, he added.
     Justice Clarence Thomas dissented because he found that “both the plain text and the history of the voter qualifications clause, U.S. Const., Art. I, §2, cl. 1, and the Seventeenth Amendment authorize states to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections, which necessarily includes the related power to determine whether those qualifications are satis­fied.”
     The law only requires that Arizona accept and use the form as part of its voter registration process, “leaving the state free to request whatever additional information it determines is necessary to ensure that voters meet the qualifications it has the constitutional authority to estab­lish,” Thomas wrote.
     Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate dissent that slammed the majority for reading “an ambiguous federal statute in a way that brushes aside the constitutional authority of the states and produces truly strange results.”
     “The court has it exactly backwards when it declines to apply the presumption against pre-emption because ‘the federalism concerns underlying the presumption in the su­premacy clause context are somewhat weaker’ in an elec­tions clause case like this one,” Alito wrote. To the contrary, Arizona has a ‘”compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process”‘ that the Constitution recognizes and that the court’s reading of the act seriously undermines.”
     Alito also found little solace in the fact that Arizona can renew its request before the Election Assistance Commission.
     “The EAC currently has no members, and there is no reason to believe that it will be restored to life in the near future,” he wrote. “If that situation persists, Arizona’s ability to obtain a judicial resolution of its constitutional claim is problematic. The most that the court is prepared to say is that the state ‘might’ succeed by seeking a writ of mandamus, and failing that, ‘might’ be able to mount a constitutional challenge. The court sends the state to traverse a veritable procedural obstacle course in the hope of obtaining a judicial decision on the constitutionality of the relevant provisions of the NVRA. A sensible interpretation of the act would obviate these difficulties.”

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