Appeals Court Decides that Arizona Proof of Citizenship Requirement for Voter Registrants Violates Federal Law
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Stacie B. Royster
APPEALS COURT DECIDES THAT ARIZONA PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP REQUIREMENT FOR VOTER REGISTRANTS VIOLATES FEDERAL LAW
WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 26, 2010) -- Today, in Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA) v. Bennett, No. 08-17115, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals issued a 2-1 opinion which found that Arizona's documentary proof of citizenship requirement for all new voter registrants violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) because the NVRA mandates that states "shall accept and use" the federal voter registration form without additional documentation requirements.
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," stated Jon Greenbaum, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who argued the case for appellants. "This will enable the many poor people in Arizona who lack driver's licenses and birth certificates to register to vote."
"The penalties against non-citizens registering to vote are very serious and have served Arizonans -- and all Americans -- well for decades," said Linda Brown, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a plaintiff in the case. "The real crime is that this law disenfranchised tens of thousands of citizens who wanted to vote but lacked the documentation to register. After Prop 200's restrictions were implemented, groups that had long conducted registration drives experienced a significant drop in the number of people they were able to register, so they abandoned those efforts. We expect they will once again be registering voters."
"This is a great victory for voting rights advocates," said LULAC General Counsel Luis Vera. "The court ruled that AZ Proposition 200 was superseded by the National Voter Registration Act, which does not allow states to require proof of citizenship to register to vote."
The challenge to Proposition 200 brought in 2006 by organizations comprising a broad coalition of Arizonans - including the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA), the Hopi Tribe, League of Women Voters of Arizona, 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, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), 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.
A copy of the decision can be found here.
About the Lawyers' Committee
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment discrimination, voting, education and environmental justice. For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.