WASHINGTON - The case, Gonzalez v. Arizona, 08-17094, has been decided, 2-1, by a three judge panel that included former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She was joined by Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta, while Chief Judge Alex Kozinski dissented on the decision to not require proof of citizenship.
The court upheld the requirement to show identification at the polls.
The National Voter Registration Act also known as the Motor Votor Act was passed in 1993 to streamline voter registration procedures nationwide.
The law was one component of Proposition 200 which was passed in 2004 and has resulted in the rejection of tens of thousands of voter registration forms in the years since. Despite the clear language in the NVRA and a letter from the United States Election Assistance Commission stating that Arizona needed to accept federal registration forms without requiring proof of citizenship, Arizona continued to reject forms that did not include documentation of citizenship.
“We are elated that the Ninth Circuit has properly applied federal election law and struck down the documentary proof of citizenship requirement,” said LULAC Legal Counsel Luis Vera. “The decision sends a message that anyone who seeks to deter or prevent voter participation, the Constitution will protect our democratic process.”
The law allows voters to register when applying for a driver’s license or social services, and allowed for more accessible voter registration through mail-in forms.
The court held that Arizona's requirement of proof of citizenship violated the federal statute, which lays out what states may and may not require to register to vote. While voters may have to attest to their citizenship, requiring documentary proof falls outside the law, the court said.
Proposition 200 created an additional hurdle for registration, the court held. The federal law is aimed at reducing "state-imposed obstacles" to voters.
Calling the state's arguments a "creative interpretation," the Ninth Circuit said "states must 'accept and use' the Federal Form as a fully sufficient means of registering to vote in federal elections."
“Although obtaining identification required under Arizona’s statute may have a cost, it is neither a poll tax itself (it is not a fee imposed on voters as a prerequisite for voting), nor is it a burden imposed on voters who refuse to pay a poll tax,” the court said.
The challenge to Proposition 200 brought in 2006 by organizations comprised a broad coalition of Arizonans – including the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA), the Hopi Tribe, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the League of Women Voters, the Hopi Tribe the Arizona Advocacy Network (AzAN), and State Representative Steve Gallardo – who are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, American Civil Liberties Union, AARP Foundation, Steptoe & Johnson LLP; Osborn Maledon, P.A.; and Sparks, Tehan & Ryley PC. Their appeal was consolidated with the appeal of several organizations advocating a separate challenge to Proposition 200.
The court rejected appellants other arguments on appeal. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sitting by designation, was part of the majority opinion written by Judge Ikuda. Chief Judge Kozinski dissented on the NVRA issue.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization in the country, advances the economic conditions, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-based programs operating through 880 LULAC councils nationwide.