With all the hullaballoo last week over the Supreme Court’s decisions on health care and immigration, it’s not surprising that most people missed a four-line order issued on Thursday, well after the health care decision was announced. But for those of us closely following voter registration issues, those four lines spoke volumes.
For more than six years, the League has been fighting against an Arizona law that requires voter registration applicants to provide documentary proof of their citizenship. That requirement was not only unnecessary, it also made it nearly impossible to conduct an independent voter registration drives such as the ones for which the League of Women Voters is justifiably famous. What’s more, the Arizona law clearly violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which sets out the requirements for voter registration applications and does not provide for documentary proof of citizenship.
The case challenging the law, Gonzalez v. Arizona, was considered several times at the federal district court level, three times at the circuit court of appeals level (once with Sandra Day O’Connor as a visiting judge), and had already been up to the Supreme Court once before on an emergency basis. The Arizona state League was one of the plaintiffs in the case, which also challenged the state’s photo ID requirement for voters at the polls.
The League of Women Voters of the U.S. (LWVUS) filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs three times on NVRA issues and we got support from the U.S. Department of Justice at the last hearing in the court of appeals (where they did a great job). The proof-of-citizenship issue was also closely fought at the Election Assistance Commission, which has jurisdiction over the federal voter registration form.
And last Thursday, the Supreme Court probably ended the case with that simple four-line order. The Court denied the state of Arizona’s request for a stay to block implementation of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding that the documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration applicants does, in fact, violate the NVRA. In other words, we won, at least for now.
The state of Arizona could still try for full Supreme Court review, but that does not seem likely to succeed at this point. And the state’s photo ID law for voting was upheld, as it has been in many states. But the League is continuing the fight against photo ID in actions across the country. We never give up when it comes to protecting voters and their right to vote.
Why is the Gonzalez decision important? A documentary proof of citizenship requirement effectively blocks many eligible citizens from registering to vote. One example: a married woman probably would not have a birth certificate with the proper name to prove her citizenship. Another: what about someone born in another state that charges for a certified copy of a birth certificate? And, as just mentioned, a voter registration drive, which is often needed to reach unregistered citizens, is virtually impossible if every applicant needs a birth certificate or passport.
So this is a big deal. The decision protects the right to vote by protecting the voter registration process for all eligible citizens.