High court strikes down Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law


While decisions in the four biggest cases pending at the Supreme Court – DOMA, Prop 8, Voting Rights Act, and affirmative action – have not yet been released, the justices handed down several decisions today, including one big one out of Arizona.

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that requires people to submit proof of citizenship when they register to vote.

The vote was 7-2. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said that a 1993 federal law known as the Motor Voter Act takes precedence over the Arizona law because of its requirement that states “accept and use” the federal voter registration form.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, two members of the court’s conservative wing, dissented.

The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf).

Regular readers may recall we discussed this case in March, and though it’s not one of the highest-profile cases of the term, it’s an important ruling for several reasons.

To briefly recap, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 – generally known as the federal “motor-voter law” – allows people to register to vote while renewing drivers licenses or applying for social services. As part of the documentation process, applicants have to say that they’re American citizens.

Arizona, however, approved something called Proposition 200, which gave the federal law a little touch-up – those registering couldn’t just say they’re American citizens; in Arizona, folks would be expected to prove it.

The result was a fairly straightforward legal question: can states create new voter-registration restrictions, on their own, under the motor-voter law? Arizona said yes; the Obama administration said no.

And this morning, a 7-member majority of the Supreme Court agreed with the administration, just as the federal appeals court had done.

This certainly matters in Arizona, but note that other states very likely would have approved similar measures if today’s ruling had gone the other way.

Motor Voter, Arizona and Supreme Court

High court strikes down Arizona's proof-of-citizenship law