17 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.

In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, one provision of which required would-be voters to show evidence of citizenship to register. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) and others alleged that this requirement was preempted by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) under the Supremacy Clause and the Elections Clause. The District Court and the Ninth Circuit agreed. The questions before the Court were: (1) Whether the Ninth Circuit erred in creating a new, heightened preemption test under the Elections Clause that is contrary to the Supreme Court’s authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions; and (2) whether the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that under that test the NVRA preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona’s evidence-of-citizenship requirement, as applied to Federal Form applicants, is preempted by the NVRA’s mandate that States “accept and use” the Federal Form. As a result, Arizona's evidence-of-citizenship requirement is invalid. The immediate impact of this decision is to limit the ability of Arizona to verify the validity of its voters. Nonetheless, the Court laid out an alternate means by which Arizona (or any other state) could determine voting qualifications. The NVRA permits states to request the federal Election Assistance Commission to include state specific instructions on the Federal Form (in fact, some states have already done this), and a State may challenge the EAC’s rejection of that request (or failure to act on it) in a suit under the Administrative Procedure Act. That alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications remains open to states.
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