June 19, 2013

US Supreme Court - June 17, 2013

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, INC. - Immigration - Proof of Citizenship - Voting- Supremacy Clause - Elections Clause - Preemption.
Facts: To fight the phantom problem of ‘voter fraud’, Arizona voters passed a law requiring that anyone who votes must prove they are citizens of the United States with identification, passport etc.  In 1993, Congress passed and the President signed a bill into law called the ‘Motor Voter Law’. Under the law, States must “accept and use” the Election Assistance Commission’s ‘Federal Form’ (EAC). Congress passed the Motor Voter Law to simplify the registration procedure in each state. The Federal Form that the EAC devised did not require a person to prove citizenship. Instead, the Federal Form required anyone registering to vote to attest and sign, under the penalty of perjury, that she or he is a United States citizen. Arizona’s law went one step further by requiring actual proof of citizenship with identification, birth certificate, passport, etc.. The 9th Circuit invalidated the proof of citizenship requirement. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court grappled with the Arizona law, the Motor Voter Law, the Federal Form, the Elections Clause of the Constitution, and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
Issue: Whether the Motor Voter Law and EAC’s Federal Form preempted Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship?
Held: Yes. 
Reasoning: Stunning as it is, Justice Scalia, who loves the anti-American fictional theory of states’ rights and who hates real or imagined Federal usurpation of States’ powers, authored the majority opinion in which Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor joined.
      The Court went to great lengths defining what “accept and use” meant in the Motor Voter Law with respect to EAC's Federal Form. Did Congress mean this language to be an all-inclusive order to accept as proof of that the person is indeed eligible to vote, i.e. a citizen? Or did the language mean, as Arizona argued, the Federal Form makes up but one element of the registration process? And thus, leaving Arizona and other states to add to the qualifications of prospective voters? Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Kennedy, agreed with Arizona, and found that the Federal Form “simply should be used as a meaningful part of the registration process.”
     The Court held to the contrary. The Court held that the completed Federal Form qualified anyone to vote. Further, the Court held that the Elections Clause allowed Congress to preempt Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship. The Court wrote, “There is good reason for treating Elections Clause legislation differently:  The assumption that Congress is reluctant to pre-empt does not hold when Congress acts under that constitutional provision, which empowers Congress to “make or alter” state election regulations. Art. I, §4, cl. 1. When Congress legislates with respect to the ‘Times, Places and Manner’ of holding congressional elections, it necessarily displaces some  element of a pre-existing legal regime erected by the States. Because the power the Elections Clause confers is none other than the power to pre-empt, the reasonable assumption is that the statutory text accurately communicates the scope of Congress’s pre-emptive intent. Moreover, the federalism concerns underlying the presumption in the Supremacy Clause context are somewhat weaker here. Unlike the States’ ‘historic police powers,’ (citation ommitted) ‘the States’ role in regulating congressional elections—while weighty and worthy of respect—has always existed subject to the express qualification that it“terminates according to federal law.
Fun Scalia jab at Alito and the Dissent in footnote 3 (just know Scalia holds a particular dislike of new amorphous, undefined, easily manipulated language, rules, or standards which is fun when he is on your side): “The dissent accepts that a State may not impose additional requirements that render the Federal Form entirely superfluous; it would require that the State ‘us[e] the form as a meaningful part of the registration process.’ Post, at 7 (opinion of ALITO, J.). The dissent does not tell us precisely how large a role for the Federal Form suffices to make it “meaningful”: One step out of two? Three? Ten? There is no easy answer, for the dissent’s ‘meaningful part’ standard is as indeterminate as it is atextual.
Link to Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, INC. here

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