Just when the Supreme Court was becoming way too predictable, Justice Scalia wrote the 7-2 majority opinion striking down Arizona’s version of a voter suppression law. Less surprising were the dissenting votes by Thomas and Alito.
The law in question created additional obstacles to voting registration for eligible voters who are also “naturalized” Citizens.
As summarized by Pete Williams: “Citizenship is a requirement to vote in any federal election, and the federal registration form requires people to state, under penalty of perjury, that they are American citizens. States can use their own forms, but they must be equivalent to the federal form.” (my emphasis)
Arizona’s voter registration form included a requirement to prove citizenship. Since naturalized citizens would have to present their naturalization documents, it means they would not be able to register on line or by mail – unlike natural born citizens. Since federal law prohibits photocopying of naturalization documents, this requirement means that Naturalized citizens would have to register in person. Therefore, the law creates an obstacle especially created for naturalized citizens.
Alabama, Georgia and Kansas, which have similar laws, joined Arizona in its defense of a law that clearly discriminates against Americans who became citizens as a matter of choice, rather than a result of birth.
Writing for the majority on ARIZONA v. INTER TRIBAL COUNCIL OF ARIZ. INC Justice Scalia said:
We hold that 42 U. S. C. §1973gg-4 precludes Arizona from requiring a Federal Form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself. Arizona may, however, request anew that the EAC include such a requirement among the Federal Form’s state-specific instructions, and may seek judicial review of the EAC’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act.
As noted by a resident of Arizona on the Scotus Blog, this ruling is a big deal.
As someone who is from Arizona, I want to make clear how big this decision is. Has completely controlled politics there (sic) for the past 2 years. Big decision for a state quickly approaching swing-state status.
And there we have the motive behind the law. As is the case with other voter suppression laws, this law was a hail Mary pass by Republicans who won’t change with the times and recognize they don’t have a snowball’s chance on any planet of winning future elections unless they rig the system.
Without question, this ruling is a solid victory for voting rights. Not only because it struck down a law obviously intended to restrict voting by certain American citizens, but also because it was a 7-2 ruling – a relatively rare occurrence in today’s Supreme Court.
The ruling did leave a narrow opening for voter suppressors in Arizona, at least in theory. They can seek approval from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and seek judicial review if the EAC’s decision isn’t to the state’s liking.
For now, Arizona will have to accept a ruling that rejects skim milk voting rights for naturalized citizens. We’ll have to see how the Supreme Court rules on section five of the Voting Rights Act case, a ruling which will be coming down within the next couple of weeks.
Image NBC Latino