Yesterday was a big news day. We learned of the long-awaited health care decision and the historic contempt finding of Attorney General Eric Holder by the House of Representatives. But less attention was paid to the Supreme Court’s decision to vacate Justice Kennedy’s temporary stay of a 9th Circuit decision overturning Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. This means that for the November 2012 election voters in the Grand Canyon State will be able to register without first having to produce additional documentary proof of their citizenship beyond what is currently required on the federal voter registration card.
In the case of Gonzalez v. Arizona, the 9th Circuit found that Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship violated the National Voter Registration Act. The dispute over the citizenship requirement in Arizona has been in the federal courts since it was imposed by the state’s voters in 2004 under “Proposition 200.” This is the second trip to the Supreme Court for this law. The first was in 2006 when the Court, without deciding the legality of the proof of citizenship mandate, unanimously overturned a prior 9th Circuit order against enforcement of that provision (Purcell v. Gonzalez, et al.). Following that decision, the Arizona law was challenged again and this time the 9th Circuit invalidated (first as a panel and then en banc) the requirement because it conflicted with federal voter registration mandates.
Following the 9th Circuit en banc decision, Arizona requested a stay of the decision mandating that the state accept federal voter registration forms without additional proof of citizenship. In response, Justice Kennedy granted a temporary stay Yesterday, however, the Supreme Court on an 8-1 vote denied the state’s request and vacated Kennedy’s temporary stay. Justice Alito was the dissenting vote.
Post Script: In the same underlying Gonzalez case, the 9thCircuit held that Arizona’s voter ID requirement for in-person voting did not violate Sec. 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That decision remains unaffected. Under its law, the state requires a voter to produce one of the following forms of identification at the polls to vote: valid Arizona driver's license or non-driver identification card, tribal ID, valid US federal, state or local government ID, a utility bill (no more than 90 days old), valid Arizona vehicle registration, Indian census card, property tax statement, vehicle insurance card or recorder’s certificate.