Supreme Court Upholds Primacy of Federal ‘Motor Voter Law’ in Arizona Voter Registration Ruling

Categories: News, Voting Rights

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (7-2) in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA), Inc., that the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 pre-empts an Arizona voter registration law requiring documents showing proof of citizenship.

“Today’s decision is a significant victory for U.S. citizens and their ability to register to vote without burdensome requirements. In our democracy, if you don’t vote, you don’t count, and the Arizona law was a blatant effort to keep some citizens from making their voice heard in our elections,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The Court affirmed a lower-court decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found that Arizona’s Proposition 200 conflicted with the NVRA and that the NVRA takes precedence over the state law. The decision was based on the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate the “time, place, and manner” of federal elections.

Congress passed the NVRA in 1993 to make voter registration more accessible to all voters, particularly those who had suffered from discriminatory and unfair voter registration practices. The NVRA allows individuals to register to vote using a simple, uniform post-card application. The NVRA notably does not require documentary proof of citizenship but instead requires a voter’s signed affirmation of citizenship, which is given under penalty of perjury.

The case was filed on behalf of several individuals and organizations that represent a broad range of Arizona citizens and organizations whose voter registration activity had been improperly curtailed by Proposition 200.  These respondents are represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Leadership Conference has filed an amicus brief in support of these citizens and organizations.

“Unfortunately, it’s clear that there continue to be active efforts across the country to make it more difficult for many U.S. citizens to register and to vote. While we celebrate today’s victory, we must stand guard to ensure that all eligible voters’ rights are protected,” said Henderson.