Supreme Court Requires Arizona to Comply with NVRA
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 17, 2013 -- Today, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a strong victory for voters and voting rights advocates in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. The Court ruled that by requiring additional proof of citizenship beyond that required by the federal voter registration form, Arizona’s Proposition 200 conflicts with and is preempted by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The Court recognized Congress’ authority under the Elections Clause to regulate voter registration procedures for federal elections and prohibited Arizona from imposing additional requirements for voters who register using the federal mail-in voter registration form.
Arizona v. ITCA is a challenge to the voting-related provisions of Proposition 200 that require Arizona citizens to present certain specified proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Today’s ruling serves as a major victory for Arizona residents whose federal voter registration applications were rejected if they did not meet the unnecessary and burdensome requirements of Arizona’s Proposition 200. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for the Court, which was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Kennedy concurred with the majority opinion.
“Today's decision is a victory for all Americans,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine. “The Court has reaffirmed the essential American right to register to vote for federal election without the burdens of state voter suppression measures.”
In 2006, the Lawyers’ Committee, the ACLU, law firms and other organizations filed suit in the United States District Court in Phoenix challenging the voting-related provisions of Proposition 200 on behalf of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., the Arizona Advocacy Network, the League of Women Voters of Arizona, LULAC of Arizona, the Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Senator Steve Gallardo. The suit was consolidated with a case brought by other Arizona citizens and organizations. Before the Supreme Court decided to hear this appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Proposition 200 violates the NVRA in an 8-2 en banc decision.
Today’s ruling affirms that the NVRA requires states to “accept and use” the federal mail-in voter registration form, under which citizenship is proven by affirmation under penalty of perjury. Under Proposition 200, however, Arizona election officials rejected federal forms that lacked additional specific evidence of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport. Despite the clear language in the NVRA and a letter from the United States Election Assistance Commission stating that Arizona needed to accept federal registration forms without requiring proof of citizenship, Arizona continued to reject forms that did not include additional evidence of citizenship. As a result, Arizona election officials rejected over 30,000 state and federal registration forms in just a two-year period, and Proposition 200 has significantly curtailed voter registration drives in the state.
“It took seven years and a series of appeals but now Arizona has to follow the law,” said Lawyers’ Committee Chief Counsel Jon Greenbaum. “The Supreme Court correctly interpreted Congress’s clear intent. Congress saw the federal form as a stand-alone, uniform document that simplifies voter registration for citizens, not a document that gives the states license to add burdensome requirements.”
A primary purpose of the NVRA was to increase citizen participation by making voter registration practices for federal elections simple and uniform. The federal mail-in form was one of three methods of voter registration required by the NVRA. Congress decided that a voter’s affirmation of United States citizenship under penalty of perjury, along with other new safeguards, is sufficient evidence of U.S. citizenship to register and vote. Congress delegated the authority for the federal, mail-in registration form to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). In addition to the federal form, which states must accept and use, states may develop and use their own mail-in registration forms. In today’s ruling, the Court also rejected Arizona’s argument that it needed to adopt a narrow reading of the NVRA’s “accept and use” provision in order to avoid a constitutional conflict.
“It is our hope that the Court will continue in this vein when it issues the Shelby v. Holder decision. It would be a false promise for today's decision to promise equal access to the ballot and for an adverse ruling in Shelby to snatch this away,” Ms. Arnwine added.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2013 as we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending; community development; employment; voting; education and environmental justice. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit http://www.lawyerscommittee.org.