JULY 1, 2015

Supreme Court declines to review proof-of-citizenship case

Lawsuit by Arizona and Kansas to force changes in federal voter registration form reaches the end of the road

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WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, the United States Supreme Court denied a Petition for Certiorari filed by Arizona and Kansas in Kobach v. U.S. Election Assistance Commission. By refusing to hear an appeal in the case, the Supreme Court leaves in effect the November 2014 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals, which unanimously ruled that Arizona and Kansas cannot force the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to alter the federal voter registration form to require documentary proof of citizenship.

This brings an end to a long legal battle that began back in 2006, when registered voters in Arizona and voting rights groups – including Project Vote – challenged Proposition 200, an Arizona law that imposed documentary proof of citizenship and photo ID requirements. That case, which became known as rizona v. ITCA, went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that states must accept the federal voter registration form – created under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 – without imposing additional requirements.

Arizona and Kansas then filed Kobach v. EAC, a lawsuit to force the Election Assistance Commission to change instructions on the federal form itself to require applicants in those states to provide proof of citizenship. In March 2014, the U.S. District Court ruled that the EAC must fulfill the request from Kansas and Arizona. The EAC and a number of civil rights groups – including Project Vote, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, and others – appealed.

In November 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s decision, and ruled that Arizona and Kansas cannot require the EAC to add documentary proof of citizenship to the federal form. Among other findings, the Court found that the NVRA preempts state law, and that Arizona and Kansas had not provided substantial evidence of noncitizens registering to vote using the federal form.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the petition today means that the U.S. Court of Appeals decision will stand, and eligible residents can continue to use the federal form to register to vote for federal elections in those states without additional restrictions. This decision does not address Kansas and Arizona’s requirement to provide documentary proof-of-citizenship to register to vote in state elections, which has already disenfranchised tens of thousands of people.

Project Vote was represented in the case by election counsel Michelle Kanter Cohen, and the law firms of Arnold and Porter LLP and the Thompson Law Firm LLC.

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to review this case is a major victory for voting rights,” said Kanter Cohen. “The NVRA created the federal form in order to make voting easier for all eligible Americans, but Arizona and Kansas have been trying for years to erect unnecessary barriers that make it harder.”

“There is very little evidence that voting by non-citizens is a problem, but there is considerable evidence that proof-of-citizenship requirements disenfranchise eligible voters, particularly low-income citizens and people of color,” continued Kanter Cohen. “We congratulate all of our many allies in this case, and we are pleased that Arizona and Kansas have been prevented from erecting the very sorts of hurdles to voting that the federal form was designed to remove.”

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