Supreme Court considers registration requirements in voter ID case

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP File

With the fate of a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act hanging in the balance, the Supreme Court hears another case challenging the right of a state to put in place new voting requirements Monday.

At stake in the case—Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.— is whether or not an Arizona law requiring Arizonans to show proof of citizenship at the voting booth will be upheld. In Arizona, a law passed by referendum in 2004 requires Arizonans to provide proof of citizenship as they register, either via birth certificate, passport, or a comparable document.

The law tacks on new requirements to the federal law, the National Voter Registration Act, that requires states to ask voters to verify their citizenship under penalty of perjury on their registration documents. Supporters of the Arizona law argue that requirement makes it too easy for illegal immigrants to then register and cast ballots, while its opponents argue that voter fraud is extremely rare and point to a 2012 study that found only two cases of non-citizen voter fraud in Arizona since 2000.

Other groups challenging Arizona’s law include the League of Women Voters and the League of United Latin American Citizens Arizona.

Most recently, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled with those opposing the measure, arguing that the state went too far by regulating an issue that is controlled by Congress and that states don’t have the authority to impose further restrictions. Arizona counters that the so-called “Motor Voter” law allows states to outline their own election procedures.

If the Court does not uphold the previous court’s decision, it could open the floodgates for other states to pass laws imposing strict registration requirements.

Although voter ID laws have typically been supported by Republicans leaders in recent years, the particular law at stake had bipartisan opposition in 2004, with Republican Senators John McCain, Jon Kyl (now retired), and the state’s former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano (now Secretary of Homeland Security) all originally opposed to the measure.