The Post reports: “States may not require additional proof of citizenship on federal forms designed to streamline voter-registration procedures, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. The court rejected a requirement passed by Arizona voters in 2004 that potential voters supply proof of eligibility beyond an applicant’s oath on the federal form that he or she is a citizen.”
Before partisans in the voting ID wars get too agitated, they should keep in mind what the decision does and does not due. For starters, the opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia and it wasn’t close (7 to 2). Second, the opinion actually confirmed states do have substantial powers regarding voting.
Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog has the most concise summary:
On the one hand, the Supreme Court agreed that, for now, Arizona’s proof requirement must yield to the federal form’s approach — that is, it is enough to register, using that form, if the would-be voter swears that he satisfies the citizenship requirement.
On the other hand, however, the Court also ruled that Arizona can seek permission from federal officials to impose its proof-of-citizenship requirement. If it fails with that request, it can go to court and argue that it has a constitutional right to make proof of citizenship a binding requirement for all voters.
But wait. If states can go to court to make proof of citizenship a requirement, why didn’t the Supreme Court recognize it in this case? The justices suggest that this in large part concerns preemption and procedural issues. The federal law displaces the apparently conflicting state law. Moreover, a state first has to go the federal Election Assistance Commission to ask to impose the additional requirement of proof of citizenship. Marty Lederman spots a loophole in a footnote, finding: “Footnote 9 of the Court’s opinion leaves open the question of whether Arizona could circumvent the Court’s ruling by re-characterizing its law in the following way: (i) to require proof of citizenship beyond the Federal Form attestation in order to register to vote; and then (ii) providing that such ‘registration’ is a qualification for voting in federal elections in Arizona.”)
But the clincher is that there was unanimous agreement on a somewhat startling point: The federal government can run the procedures for federal elections (e.g. the Voting Rights Act), but the states decide who can vote. (Recall the lowering of the age to vote from 21 to 18 was done via constitutional amendment, so that is safe.) That would seem to give extraordinary latitude to states regarding items like residency requirements, absentee voting, etc.
It should surprise no one that voting-rights advocates on both sides are overblowing and misreading the decision. It does not, for example, say all state election laws are voidable and the feds can act as super-monitors of state laws. Nor does it say that illegal immigrants have a pass to vote. I guess both sides need to fundraise, but their assertions evince no sign that they have read or understood the case.