Challengers to Arizona’s eight-year-old mandate that voters must prove that they are U.S. citizens before they may register to go to the polls argued Monday that the state has not offered any evidence that the requirement is necessary to prevent fraud in elections.   Urging the Supreme Court to leave undisturbed a Ninth Circuit Court decision striking down the citizenship rule, the opponents of Arizona’s “Proposition 200” contended that a delay of that ruling will interfere with voting in this year’s elections and drive potential voters away from the polls.  Two responses to Arizona’s plea for postponement can be read here and here.

The state’s voters approved the citizenship mandate in 2004, and its enactment has led to a continuing courthouse battle that has been to the Supreme Court once before, and even led to an earlier Ninth Circuit ruling against the requirement by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sitting temporarily as a federal appeals court judge.  Indeed, her name was invoked by the challengers as they sought to head off Arizona’s stay application (11A1189).

The state’s plea was filed with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who handles emergency filings from the Ninth Circuit’s region.  He has the option of deciding it himself, or sharing it with the other Justices.  Kennedy — or the Court — is expected to act later this week, after getting a reply brief from Arizona officials.  That brief is due at noon Wednesday.

At issue in both the stay application, and in the coming Supreme Court appeal that Arizona plans to file, is whether the citizenship requirement conflicts with the National Voter Regisration Act, passed by Congress in 1993 to try to streamline the voter registration process across the country.   Under that Act, states are generally required to allow voters to use a federal form to ease registration.   The form does have a place where a would-be voter must indicate whether they are a U.S. citizen, but Arizona’s requirement goes beyond that and requires documentary proof of citizenship.

In one of the filings Monday, the challengers asserted that “two decades of experience” with the federal law “have convincingly demonstrated that the use of the federal form poses no threat to the integrity of our elections.  Rather, the federal form has enabled millions of citizens to easily register and participate in our democracy.”   That brief added that the federal Election Assistance Administration, which advises Congress on the impact of the 1993 law on federal elections, “has never reported a single occasion when use of the federal form facilitated successful election fraud.”

In a second filing, a group known as the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona argued that Arizona officials have been rejecting would-be voters who had filled out the federal form, but could not satisfy the citizenship document requirement, and that this has discouraged more than 20,000 Arizonans, leading them to give up even on attempting to register.

Posted in Cases in the Pipeline, Featured

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Citizenship mandate challenged, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 18, 2012, 7:28 PM),