the supreme court on monday struck down an arizona law requiring people to submit proof of citizenship when they register to vote. the vote was 7-2. justices samuel alito and clarence thomas, two of the court's conservative wing, both dissented.
justice antonin scalia, writing for the majority, said a 1993 federal law known as the motor voter act takes precedence over the arizona law. scalia said the motor voter act requires states to "accept and use" the federal voter registration form.
a few states have similar laws, which they say are meant to reduce voter fraud. but civil rights groups say the arizona law intended to discourage voting by legal immigrants - they worried more states would follow suit if the court upheld. groups opposed to the arizona law said the court blocked an attempt at voter suppression.
"today's decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law," said nina perales, vice president of litigation for the mexican-american legal defense and education fund.
citizenship is a requirement to vote in any federal election, and the federal registration form requires people to state, under perjury, they are american citizens. states can use their own forms, but they must be equivalent to the federal form.
the arizona law, known as proposition 200 & and adopted by arizona voters in 2004, went further than the federal form by requiring applicants to provide proof of citizenship. according to the brennan center for justice, arizona has used the law to reject 30,000 voter applicants.
challengers to the law argued using a naturalization document as proof would require an applicant to register in person, as opposed to through the mail, because federal law opposes copying the document. a federal appeals court said arizona went too far - essentially rejecting the federal form. but arizona contends prop 200 is similar to asking for id at an airport, which is not a rejection of a plane ticket.
the supreme court ruling pointed out arizona still has an option: it can ask the federal government to include state-specific instructions on the federal form, and go to court if the government says no. alabama, georgia and kansas have laws almost identical to arizona's and joined prop 200 in urging the court to uphold the additional proof of citizenship.
at an oral argument in march, thomas horne, a lawyer for arizona, told the justices the state had a right to ask for additional information beyond the federal form. horne said, "it's extremely inadequate. it's essentially an honor system. it does not do the job." justice sonia sotomayor replied, "well, that's what the federal system decided was enough."
scalia said during the argument federal law empowers states to take additional action to assess a potential voter's eligibility. he said, "under oath is not proof at all. it's just a statement." patricia millett, a lawyer for groups opposed to prop 200 countered, "statements under oath in a criminal case are proof beyond a reasonable doubt" in criminal cases resulting in execution. she said, "it's a very serious oath."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.