File photo: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, left, stands with Chief Justice John Roberts.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Supreme Court justices seem divided on Arizona voting law
- Article by: Robert Barnes
- Washington Post
- March 18, 2013 - 8:28 PM
WASHINGTON - Supreme Court justices seemed split Monday on whether a federal law intended to streamline voter-registration procedures means that states may not attach additional requirements, such as proof of citizenship.
The federal registration form that Congress says states must “accept and use” requires only that the applicant swear under oath that he or she is a citizen.
But Arizona voters in 2004 passed a requirement that applicants provide additional proof beyond that statement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against the state, saying Arizona could not add requirements.
The state-by-state battle over who is eligible to vote, what kind of identification or proof may be required, and even the hours of voting prompted a host of legal battles leading up to the 2012 elections. In general, Republicans proposed new restrictions as necessary to combat voter fraud, while Democrats said such moves would harm minorities and the poor, who often do not have easy access to the required credentials.
A ruling for Arizona could open the door for states to add requirements to the federal registration form, and the issue seemed to split the court along familiar ideological lines.
Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne, a Republican, told the justices that the National Voter Registration Act required the development of the federal form that applicants may mail in to register to vote but that the law was not meant to limit what the states could require.
“It is the burden of the states to determine the eligibility of the voters,” Horne said, adding that Congress did not specifically tell states not to demand proof of citizenship.
He immediately ran into trouble from liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Ginsburg said Congress was not silent about citizenship. It had decided that a sworn statement subject to perjury charges was sufficient, she said.
“So it’s not as though the federal form didn’t relate to citizenship. It did,” Ginsburg said. “And it said this is the way we deal with citizenship. Then Arizona adds something else.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who might be a swing vote, asked Horne whether Arizona could add other requirements.
When Horne said yes, if they were consistent with the objectives of the act, Kennedy said it then seemed to him that the federal form “is not worth very much.”
© 2013 Star Tribune