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Arizona et al. v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, et al.

Arizona et al. v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, et al.
No. 12-71
Vote: 7-2

The Facts of the case are these: “The National Voter Registration Act of 1993’ (NVRA) requires States to ‘accept and use’ a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections (42 USC ss.1973gg-4a1). That ‘federal form,’ developed by the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), requires only that an applicant aver, under penalty of perjury, that he is a citizen. Arizona law, however, requires voter-registration officials to ‘reject’ any application for registration, including a Federal Form, that is not accompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship. Respondents, a group of individual Arizona residents and a group of nonprofit organizations, sought to enjoin that Arizona law. Ultimately, the District Court granted Arizona summary judgment on respondents’ claim that the NVRA pre-empts Arizona’s requirement. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part but reversed as relevant here, holding that the state law’s documentary-proof-of-citizenship requirement is pre-empted by the NVRA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The main issues in this case are these: 1. Does a State have the right to add additional documents to the list of eligible identification documents?

The holding in this case was that, 1. No, a State does not have the right to add additional documents to the list of eligible identification documents; because it violates federal law under the NVRA.

Justice Scalia delivered the majority opinion in this case: “Over the past two decades, Congress has erected a complex superstructure of federal regulation atop state voter-registration systems. NVRA, as amended, 42 USC ss.1973gg et seq., ‘requires States to provide simplified systems for registering to vote in federal elections’ (Young v. Fordice, 1997). The act requires each State to permit prospective voters to ‘register to vote in election of Federal office’ by any of three methods: simultaneously with a driver’s license application, in person, or by mail ss.1973gg-s(a). This case concerns registration by mail. Section 1973gg-s(a)(2) of the Act requires a State to establish procedures for registering to vote in federal elections ‘by mail application pursuant to section 1973gg-4 of this title. Section 1973gg-4, in turn, requires States to ‘accept and use’ a standard federal registration form… To be eligible to vote under Arizona law, a person must be a citizen of the United States (Ariz. Const, Art. VII, ss. 2; Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. Ss. 16-101(a) (West 2006). This case concerns Arizona’s efforts to enforce that qualification. In 2004, Arizona voters adopted Proposition 200, a ballot initiative designed in part ‘to combat voter fraud by requiring voters to present proof of citizenship when they register to vote and to present identification when they vote on election day’ (Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 US 1,2 (2006) (per curium)…The proof-of-citizenship requirement is satisfied by (1) a photocopy of an applicant’s passport or birth certificate, (2) a driver’s license number, if the license states that the issuing authority verified the holder’s U.S. citizenship, (3) evidence of naturalization, (4) tribal identification, or (5) ‘other documents of methods of proof… established pursuant to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.’The Elections Assistance Commission did not grant Arizona’s request to include this new requirement among the state-specific instructions for Arizona on the Federal Form… The Elections Clause, Art. I ss. 4 cl. 1 provides: ‘The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the places of chusing Senators.’ The Clause empowers Congress to pre-empt state regulations governing the ‘Times, Places and Manner’ of holding congressional elections. The question here is whether the federal statutory requirement that States ‘accept and use’ the Federal Form pre-empt Arizona’s state-law requirement that officials ‘reject’ the application of a prospective voter who submits a completed Federal Form unaccompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship… We conclude that the fairest reading of the statute is that a state-imposed requirement of evidence of citizenship not required by the Federal Form is ‘inconsistent with’ the NVRA’s mandate that States ‘accept and use’ the Federal Form (Siebold, supra, at 397). If this reading prevails, the Elections Clause requires that Arizona’s rule give way. We note, however, that while the NVRA forbids States to demand that an applicant submit additional information beyond that required by the Federal Form, it does not preclude States from ‘denying registration based on information in their possession establishing the applicant’s ineligibility’ (Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 24). The NVRA clearly contemplates that not every submitted Federal Form will result in registration. (See ss.1973gg-7(b)(1) (Federal Form ‘may require only’ information ‘necessary to enable the appropriate State election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant”

Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring in part and concurring in judgment opinion in this case: “The opinion for the Court insists on stating a proposition that, in my respectful view, is unnecessary for the proper disposition of the case and is incorrect in any event. The Court concludes that the normal ‘starting presumption that Congress does not intend to supplant state law,’ (New York State Conference of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Plans v. Travelers Ins. Co. (1995), does not apply here because the source of congressional power is the Election Clause and not some other provision of the Constitution… There is no sound basis for the Court to rule, for the first time, that there exists a hierarchy of federal power so that some statutes pre-empting state law must be interpreted by different rules than others, all depending upon which power Congress has exercised. If the Court is skeptical of the basic idea of a presumption against pre-emption as a helpful instrument of construction in express pre-emption cases, (see Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1992)… There are numerous instances in which Congress, in the undoubted exercise of its enumerated powers, has stated its express purpose and intent to pre-empt state law. But the Court has nonetheless recognized that ‘when the text of a pre-emption clause is susceptible of more than one plausible reading, courts ordinarily ‘accept the reading that disfavors pre-emption’ (Altria Group, Inc. v. Good (2008), quoting (Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC, (2005)… Here in my view, the Court is correct to conclude that the NVRA is unambiguous in its pre-emption of Arizona’s statutes. For this reason, I concur in judgment and join all of the Court’s opinion except its discussion of the presumption against pre-emption…”

Justice Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion in this case: “This case involves the federal requirement that States ‘accept and use,’ (42 USC ss.1973gg-4(a)(a), the federal voter registration form created pursuant to the NVRA. The Court interprets ‘accept and use,’ with minor exceptions, to require States to register any individual who completes and submits a federal form. It, therefore, holds that ss.1973gg-4(a)(1) pre-empts an Arizona law requiring additional information to register. As the majority recognizes… its decision implicates a serious constitutional issue—whether Congress has power to set qualifications for those who vote in elections for federal office. I do not agree, and I think that both the plain text and the history of the Voter Qualification Clause, U.S. Const., Art. I ss.2, cl.1, and the Seventeenth Amendment authorize States to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections, which necessarily includes the related power to determine whether those qualifications are satisfied. To avoid substantial constitutional problems created by interpreting ss.1973ss-4(a)(1) to permit Congress to effectively countermand this authority, I would construe the law as only requiring Arizona to accept and use the form as part of its voter registration process, that voters meet the qualifications it has the constitutional authority to establish. Under this interpretation, Arizona did ‘accept and use’ the federal form. Accordingly, there is no conflict between Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. ss.16-166(F) (West Cum. Supp. 2012) and ss.1973gg-4(a)(1) and, thus, no pre-emption… The States, not the Federal Government, have the exclusive right to define the ‘Qualifications requisite for Electors,’ US Const., Art. I, ss.2 cl.1, which includes the corresponding power to verify that those qualifications, have been met. I would, therefore, hold that Arizona may ‘reject any application for registration that is not accompanied by satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship,’ as defined by Arizona law…

Justice Alito, also wrote a dissenting opinion in the case: “The Court reads an ambiguous federal statute in a way that brushes aside the constitutional authority of the States and produces truly strange results. Under the Constitution, the States, not Congress, have the authority to establish the qualifications of voters in elections for Members of Congress. (See Art. I, ss.2, cl.1 (House); Amdt. 17 (Senate). The States also have the default authority to regulate federal voter registration. See Art. I, ss.4, cl.1. Exercising its right to set federal voter qualifications, Arizona, like every other State, permits only U.S. citizens to vote in federal elections, and Arizona has concluded that this requirement cannot be effectively enforced unless applicants for registration are required to provide proof of citizenship. According to the Court, however, the NVRA deprives Arizona of this authority. I do not think that this is what Congress intended… Properly interpreted, the NVRA permits Arizona to require applicants for federal voter registration to provide proof of eligibility. I therefore respectfully dissent.”


The significance of this case are these: While, we were all taught in our civics courses, that Federal law is above State law or pre-empts State law, the Constitution of the United States pre-empts all. Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution states in part that: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the ELECTORS IN EACH STATE SHALL HAVE THE QUALIFICATIONS REQUISITE FOR ELECTORS OF THE MOST NUMEROUS BRANCH OF THE STATE LEGISLATURE” (EMPHASIS ADDED). This part of the Constitution seems to point directly to the States at least for the House of Representatives being responsible for the naming of the qualifications for elections. The two dissenters in this case also point to the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In that is states in part: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. THE ELECTORS IN EACH STATE SHALL HAVE THE QUALIFICATIONS REQUISITE FOR ELECTORS OF THE MOST NUMEROUS BRANCH OF THE STATE LEGISLATURES” (EMPHASIS ADDED). Again, the same text is revealed in both Constitutional provisions, they both say the same thing about the different branches. Article I, applies to the House of Representatives, and Amendment Seventeen, applied to the Senate of the United States. Looking at all of this, it would seem that the two dissenting justices are absolutely correct, and that this power does not lie with the Federal Government but lies with the States. It seems that, this case should have been clear, the Constitution says the States are in charge… the Court says… the Federal Government is in charge. It seems to me, that seven justices, have just amended the Constitution of the United States.


Works Cited: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=12-71

Briefed by: David A.W. Hittle