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Tom Caso, a professor at Chapman University School of Law in California and supporter of the Arizona law, said the decision "opened the door" to noncitizen voting.
"The court's decision ignores the clear dictates of the Constitution in favor of bureaucratic red tape," Caso said. "The notion that the court will not enforce the Constitution unless you first apply to a commission that cannot act because it has no members is mind-boggling."
Currently, the Election Assistance Commission has no active commissioners. The four commissioners are supposed to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The last two left in 2011, according to the panel's website.
Kathy McKee, who led the push to get Proposition 200 on the ballot in Arizona, said the ruling makes it harder to combat voter fraud, including fraud carried out by people who don't have permission to be in the country. "To even suggest that the honor system works, really?" McKee said. "You have to prove who you are just to use your charge card now."
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only two dissenters. Alito said the decision means that Arizona now has two voter registration systems, and that the success of an applicant could come simply by the system he or she chooses. "I find it very hard to believe that this is what Congress had in mind," he said.
Opponents of Arizona's law saw it as an attack on vulnerable voter groups such as minorities, immigrants and the elderly. They say they've counted more than 31,000 potentially legal voters in Arizona who easily could have registered before Proposition 200 but were blocked by the state law in the 20 months after it passed. They say about 20 percent of those thwarted were Latino.
Arizona officials say they should be able to pass laws to stop noncitizens from getting on their voting rolls. The Arizona voting law was part of a package that also denied some government benefits to people in the country illegally and required Arizonans to show identification before voting.
Arizona can ask the federal government to include the extra documents as a state-specific requirement, Scalia said, and challenge any adverse decision by the government in court. Louisiana's request already has been granted, Scalia said.
The ruling upholds one by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the 1993 National Voter Registration Act of 1993 trumps Arizona's Proposition 200.
The case is 12-71, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.