In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot mandate prospective voters to produce identification proving their U.S. citizenship before signing up to vote. Justice Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both dissented from the ruling.
In overturning Arizona’s Proposition 200 passed in 2004, the court has given preference to federal law over states’ rights. The court upheld the original provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 or more commonly called the “Motor Voter Registration,” which allows applicants for a driver’s license to also register to vote. In fighting to protect Proposition 200, Arizona is effectively challenging the federal government’s right to intervene in state election laws.
Though the court overruled complete state sovereignty over voter registration, Scalia did make clear that states are allowed to propose registration requirements so long as they get federal approval from the Election Assistance Commission. Scalia mentioned the Commission’s recent approval of a voter registration requirement specific to Louisiana.
Since the proposition passed in 2004, an estimated 31,000 people were blocked from casting their votes in the intervening 20 months before the proposition was challenged. Roughly 20 percent were Latino.
Proponents of the proposition saw it as both a safeguard against allowing illegal aliens to vote and as a stand for states’ rights. Opponents saw the legislation as thinly veiled persecution against minorities, immigrants and the elderly.
The ruling will likely have a larger impact on the voting requirements of neighboring states along the border. Currently, four other states have equivalent legislation and 12 more are considering similar propositions.
Unfortunately, the ruling does not provide much basis for speculation on the court’s next big decision concerning the Voting Rights Act. This controversial civil rights era law requires 16 states with a history of racial discrimination to receive federal approval from the Justice Department before making changes in the way they hold elections.