Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comment from UC Davis School of Law Professor Gabriel "Jack" Chin.
by Jeremy Leaming
The U.S. Supreme Court voting 7-2 dealt a setback to Arizona’s rigid voter ID law, saying the state’s additional citizenship requirements were preempted by federal elections laws.
The setback could be seen as a victory of sorts for opponents of state efforts aimed at crafting and implementing more hurdles to voting, ones that disproportionately impact minorities, poor people, the elderly and students. Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion, however, left the door open for Arizona and other states to try to alter the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, also known as motor-voter) to impose stricter requirements to vote.
In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, the majority led by Scalia found that Arizona’s Proposition 200 provision requiring elections officials to “reject any application for registration that is not accompanied by satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship” must “give way” to the federal form created by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The NVRA requires states to “accept and use” that federal form. As Scalia noted, the federal form “does not require documentary evidence of citizenship; rather it requires only that an applicant aver, under penalty of perjury, that he is a citizen.” Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The NVRA and the EAC were created pursuant to the Constitution’s Elections Clause (Article I, Section 4), which states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations ….”
Scalia wrote that the “textual question” in the case centered on whether the NVRA’s requirement that states “accept and use” the federal form preempts Arizona’s state-law requirement that officials reject “the application of a prospective voter who submits a completed Federal Form unaccompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship.”
Arizona officials argued that its reading of the federal law allowed it to reject a federal form if it failed to include the additional information set out in the state law.
Scalia said it “is improbable” that the federal law “envisions a completed copy of the form it takes such pains to create as being anything less than ‘valid.’”
He continued, “States retain the flexibility to design and use their own registration forms, but the Federal Form [created by the EAC] provides a backstop: No matter what procedural hurdles a State’s own form imposes, the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available.”