Voting Rights Victory: Arizona Proof of Citizenship Overturned

Election '16

In a little-noticed ruling amidst clamor over the healthcare decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an Arizona law requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, holding it was preempted by the National Voting Registration Act (NVRA).

The law was adopted as a "model" bill by the American Legislative Exchange Council[5] [ALEC] in 2008. For the second time in one week, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court has curtailed ALEC's anti-immigrant agenda.

Arizona Proposition 200 became law in 2004 and required election officials to reject voter registration forms that did not include documentation proving citizenship. Critics said that there was no evidence that illegal immigrants attempted to vote in state or federal elections and the real intent of the law was to shut down community voter registration drives.

The law was another piece of anti-immigrant legislation supported by Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, an ALEC member. After Proposition 200 became Arizona law, Pearce brought the bill to ALEC, and in 2008 the corporate and legislative members of ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force[6] adopted Proposition 200 as a "model" they titled the Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.[7] That same task force was also responsible for approving voter ID, "Stand Your Ground," and bills to privatize prisons and bail.

Pearce was also behind Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law that required local law enforcement enforce federal immigration law. That same ALEC task force -- whose corporate members included representatives of the private prison and private bail industries[8] -- approved the bill that became SB 1070 as an ALEC model, months before it was first introduced in the Arizona legislature. The U.S. Supreme Court also struck down that law[9] last week on June 24.

Last November, Pearce was recalled[10] by his constituents, largely because of his support for anti-immigration legislation and his cozy relationships with out-of-state special interests. In April of this year, ALEC disbanded the Public Safety and Elections Task Force[11] after a "Stand Your Ground" law was initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin's killer in Florida.

On June 28, the Supreme Court dealt the ALEC agenda another blow by declining to stay[12] a ruling by the Ninth Circuit holding that Arizona's Proposition 200 (the ALEC Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act) was preempted by the NVRA. The NVRA, also known as the "Motor Voter Act," was designed to make voter registration more simple and unified. Arizona’s refusal to accept federal voter registration forms without proof of citizenship, the Ninth Circuit held[13], imposed additional restrictions beyond what was called for under the federal law.

Two weeks ago, Arizona asked Justice Kennedy to stay the decision,which he did temporarily, but on June 28 the full Court vacated that temporary order (with Justice Alito dissenting). This means the Ninth Circuit decision stands, and citizens will be able to register in Arizona without having to provide additional documentation proving their citizenship.

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