In a ruling hailed by voting rights advocates today, Arizona's requirement that newly registered voters submit proof of citizenship with their registration has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision. Justice Antonin Scalia authored the opinion for the majority, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The court rejected provisions of Proposition 200, a ballot measure approved by AZ voters in 2004, which mandated that state election officials reject all applications to register to vote that did not include documentary proof of citizenship. Those documents, however, are not currently required by the Federal Form for voter registration, as approved by the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) pursuant to provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
Today's ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona [PDF], is grounded upon the plenary power given to Congress by the Elections Clause (Art. I §4 of the U.S. Constitution) empowering Congress to preempt state regulations governing the "Times, Places and Manner" of holding federal elections. The court found that the NVRA mandate that states "accept and use" the Federal Form for voter registration takes precedence, and that Prop 200 is invalid because it conflicts with the Congressional intent that the NVRA help ease the ability of citizens to register to vote.
Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia observed that if a state could "demand of Federal Form applicants every additional piece of information the State requires…the Federal Form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would be a feeble means of 'increas[ing] the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office.'"
This does not close the door on the issue altogether, however. Justice Scalia noted that, pursuant to the NVRA, any state can ask that "the EAC alter the Federal Form to include information the State deems necessary to determine eligibility." If the EAC then rejects such a request, the state "may challenge the EAC's rejection of that request [in court]"...
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