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Supreme Court strikes down Az voter registration restrictions
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Supreme Court strikes down Az voter registration restrictions

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Arizona cannot require documentation of U.S. citizenship from voters who submit a standard registration form under the federal "Motor Voter" law. The 7-2 decision was written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Federal law "precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself," Scalia wrote.

The ruling invalidates a provision of the 2004 law, passed as part of Prop. 200, saying it is preempted by the 1993 federal National Voter Registration Act, which created a common form.

The federal statute is "unambiguous" in its preemption of the state law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion.

The federal law requires states to "accept and use" the standard forms. The ruling does not affect the forms created by the state, which require citizenship documents, but only requires that they also accept the federal forms without additional papers.

While the federal "Motor Voter" post card form requires prospective voters to declare their citizenship, the Arizona law required separate physical documentation.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The Constitution "authorizes states to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections, which necessarily includes the related power to determine whether those qualifications are satisfied," Thomas wrote.

The Constitution's elections clause also provides Congress the power to make changes to how states hold elections for federal offices, Scalia pointed out.

The decision was welcomed by voting-rights activists.

"'Today's decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law," said Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the organization representing those challenging the law.

About 30,000 voter registrations have been denied in Arizona because citizenship documents weren't provided as required under Prop. 200.

"The well-funded, out-of-state propaganda machine that used false fears about the integrity of our elections lost today," state Sen. Steve Gallardo said in a press release.

In March oral arguments before the court, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne called the federal form "essentially an honor system."

Questioning lawyers for those challenging the law, Scalia — who went on to write the opinion upholding the law — said, "Under oath is not proof at all. It’s just a statement."

But "statements under oath in a criminal case are proof beyond a reasonable doubt" in a death-penalty case, answered a challenging attorney. "It's a very serious oath."

Arizona likely to renew request

Scalia did point out in his decision that states may ask the federal Election Assistance Commission for permission to modify the forms.

A previous request by the state failed on a 2-2 deadlock in the EAC. Scalia pointed out that the body does not now have a quorum to review requests, and that Arizona would have to sue after filing one to again attempt to add a requirement for citizenship documents.

The state "would have the opportunity to establish in a reviewing court that a mere oath will not suffice to effectuate its citizenship requirement," he wrote.

Horne is expected to announce he will pursue such a course at a Monday afternoon press conference in Phoenix.

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