October 15, 2012
Court Grants Certiorari in Arizona Voting Case: Preemption and Citizenship Issues
Today the United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari of the State of Arizona in Arizona v. The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, from the Ninth Circuit's en banc opinion in Gonzalez v. Arizona. (The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, ITCA, was a named plaintiff in Gonzales).
The central issues, as have been the case with other recent Arizona laws before the Supreme Court, involve pre-emption and citizenship. Here, Arizona's law derives from a ballot initiative, Proposition 200, passed in 2004. It requires prospective voters in Arizona to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote and requires registered voters to show identification to cast a ballot at the polls. The plaintiffs contended that these provisions were pre-empted by the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Acts.
With regard to the polling place requirements, the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge and rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the requirements were inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act, violated the Twenty Fourth Amendment's prohibition of poll taxes, or violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
However, the Ninth Circuit found the challenge to the registration to vote provisions had merit. As a grounds of pre-emption, the plaintiffs relied on the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, but also upon the Elections Clause, Art. I, § 4, cl. 1. Recall that the Elections Clause provides: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators." The Ninth Circuit en banc extensively discussed Election Clause pre-emption and compared the provisions of the NVRA and the Proposition 200 regulations. The court found:
Although Arizona has offered a creative interpretation of the state and federal statutes in an effort to avoid a direct conflict, we do not strain to reconcile a state’s federal election regulations with those of Congress, but consider whether the state and federal procedures operate harmoniously when read together naturally. Here, under a natural reading of the NVRA, Arizona’s rejection of every Federal Form submitted without proof of citizenship does not constitute “accepting and using” the Federal Form. Arizona cannot cast doubt on this conclusion by pointing out that the NVRA allows states to reject applicants who fail to demonstrate their eligibility pursuant to the Federal Form. Congress clearly anticipated that states would reject applicants whose responses to the Federal Form indicate they are too young to vote, do not live within the state, or have not attested to being U.S. citizens. Indeed, the NVRA instructs the EAC [Election Assistance Commission] to request information on the Federal Form for the precise purpose of “enabl[ing] the appropriate State election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant.” Thus, a state that assesses an applicant’s eligibility based on the information requested on the Federal Form is “accepting and using” the form in exactly the way it was meant to be used. In contrast, Proposition 200’s registration provision directs county recorders to assess an applicant’s eligibility based on proof of citizenship information that is not requested on the Federal Form, and to reject all Federal Forms that are submitted without such proof. Rejecting the Federal Form because the applicant failed to include information that is not required by that form is contrary to the form’s intended use and purpose.
In its petition for writ of certiorari, Arizona argues that the Ninth Circuit mistakenly created a "new, heightened preemption test" under the Elections Clause and incorrectly concluded that the Proposition 200 requirements were preempted by the NVRA.
The litigation has already garnered a few amicus curiae briefs at the certiorari stage; it is sure to be another closely watched case on Arizona's attempts to regulate citizenship.
[image: ITCA,"Tribal Homelands in Arizona" via]
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