In this case, originally filed in 2006, the Lawyers’ Committee and several other legal organizations represent a broad coalition of Arizonans – including the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., the Hopi Tribe, the League of Women Voters of Arizona, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Arizona Advocacy Network, and State Senator Steve Gallardo – to challenge the voting-related provisions of Arizona’s Proposition 200, adopted in November 2004. Proposition 200 specified that citizens must present documentary evidence of citizenship when registering to vote, and that voters must present identification at the polls on Election Day in order to vote.
After several years of unsuccessful litigation, we prevailed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, first in October 2010 in a three-judge panel ruling and then in April 2012 in an en banc ruling. The en banc court, by a vote of 8-2, held that Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement is preempted by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”) insofar as the State sought to apply the requirement to persons registering to vote using the NVRA’s national mail-in registration form (the “Federal Form”). The NVRA requires that Arizona “accept and use” the Federal Form for voter registration for federal elections. The Federal Form, as prescribed by the federal Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”), provides for applicants to certify their U.S. citizenship under penalty of perjury, but does not require applicants to supply any documentary proof of citizenship such as that prescribed by Arizona. Nonetheless, Arizona directed county election officials to reject all Federal Forms that did not comply with the State’s supplemental citizenship procedure.
We also argued to the Ninth Circuit that Proposition 200’s polling place identification provision constitutes a poll tax prohibited by the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments because it often requires voters to expend funds to obtain the necessary documentation. However, both the Ninth Circuit panel and the Ninth Circuit en banc ruled against us on that issue.
Following the en banc decision, the case was returned to the district court for entry of appropriate relief. On July 11, 2012, the district court issued a remedial order requiring that Arizona election officials accept the Federal Form for voter registration without applying the State’s proof of citizenship provision.
At the same time, however, Arizona requested that the Supreme Court review the Ninth Circuit’s decision. On October 15, 2012, the Supreme Court granted the State’s request, and oral argument took place on March 18, 2013. The Supreme Court’s grant of review did not affect the July 2012 injunction issued by the district court.
On June 17, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its ruling affirming the Ninth Circuit by a vote of 7-2. In an opinion by Justice Scalia, the Court held that Arizona is prohibited by the NVRA from applying its documentary proof of citizenship provision to persons who apply to register to vote using the Federal Form. The Court explained that, under Article I, section 4, clause 1 of the Constitution (commonly known as the “Elections Clause”), Congress has “broad” authority to regulate the manner in which federal elections are conducted, and may supersede state-enacted election rules governing federal election procedures. The Court determined that Congress had done exactly that when it enacted the NVRA and mandated that States “accept and use” the Federal Form issued by the EAC without adding any separate state registration requirements to the Form.
The Court acknowledged that, as Arizona had argued, the Constitution separately grants States the authority to decide voter eligibility for federal elections. Based on this, Arizona claimed that it would be unconstitutional for the NVRA to preempt the State’s proof of citizenship provision because the State allegedly needs the provision in order to enforce its limitation of the franchise to U.S. citizens. In response, the Court noted that the NVRA requires the EAC to include in the Federal Form “information . . . necessary to enable the appropriate State election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant,” and Arizona, therefore, may petition the EAC and attempt to demonstrate that the proof of citizenship requirement is “necessary” and thus should be included in the Federal Form for use in that State. The Court also indicated that if Arizona is dissatisfied with the agency’s determination, the State may follow the regular procedures for seeking court review of an agency action specified by the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
The case now will return to the district court, which has the responsibility for ensuring that Arizona complies with the Supreme Court ruling.
Supreme Court Documents
- Opinion by the Supreme Court of the United States
- State of Arizona’s Brief on the Merits
- Arizona Counties’ Brief on the Merits
- ITCA Respondents’ Brief on the Merits, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee
- Gonzalez Respondents’ Brief on the Merits, filed by MALDEF
- Reply Brief for Petitioner, filed the State of Arizona
Amicus Briefs in Support of Petitioners:
- Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas
- American Civil Rights Union
- American Unity Legal Defense Fund
- Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence
- Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
- Kris W. Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State
- Landmark Legal Foundation
- Members of Congress
- Mountain States Legal Foundation
- Russell Pearce, Arizona State Senator
Amicus Briefs in Support of Respondents:
- Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
- Community Voter Registration Organizations
- Constitutional Law Professors
- Election Administrators
- LatinoJustice PRLDEF, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Law Caucus, and Asian Pacific American Legal Center, et al.
- League of Women Voters
- Members of Congress
- NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Anti-Defamation League
- National Education Association, et al.
- Overseas Vote Foundation, Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, American Citizens Abroad, Military Spouses of Michigan, and Arizona Students’ Association
- United States
Appellate Court Documents
- Lawyers’ Committee Ninth Circuit brief
- 2010 Ninth Circuit panel opinion
- Ninth Circuit en banc opinion on the merits
- Lawyers’ Committee press release on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion
- Ninth Circuit en banc decision denying a stay of the mandate
District Court Documents
- District Court’s August 15, 2012 remedial order
- District Court’s July 11, 2012 remedial order
- 2008 District Court opinion denying all claims