Monday, June 17, 2013

READ OFFICIAL SUMMARY: U.S. Supreme Court Opinion In Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council

By a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court voted against the State of Arizona in Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council, and determined that the state's law requiring people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote is preempted by federal law.

Here is the Syllabus of the opinion - the official summary:

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 U. S. C. §1973gg–4(a)(1). 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.
Held: Arizona’s evidence-of-citizenship requirement, as applied to Federal Form applicants, is pre-empted by the NVRA’s mandate thatStates “accept and use” the Federal Form. Pp. 4–18.

(a) The Elections Clause imposes on States the duty to prescribethe time, place, and manner of electing Representatives and Senators, but it confers on Congress the power to alter those regulationsor supplant them altogether. See U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U. S. 779, 804–805. This Court has said that the terms “Times, Places, and Manner” “embrace authority to provide acomplete code for congressional elections,” including regulations relating to “registration.” Smiley v. Holm, 285 U. S. 355, 366. Pp. 4–6.

(b) Because “accept and use” are words “that can have more than
one meaning,” they “are given content . . . by their surroundings.” Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457, 466. Reading “accept” merely to denote willing receipt seems out of placein the context of an official mandate to accept and use something fora given purpose. The implication of such a mandate is that its objectis to be accepted as sufficient for the requirement it is meant to satisfy. Arizona’s reading is also difficult to reconcile with neighboringNVRA provisions, such as §1973gg–6(a)(1)(B) and §1973gg–4(a)(2).

Arizona’s appeal to the presumption against pre-emption invoked in this Court’s Supremacy Clause cases is inapposite. The power the Elections Clause confers is none other than the power to pre-empt.Because Congress, when it acts under this Clause, is always on notice that its legislation will displace some element of a pre-existing legalregime erected by the States, the reasonable assumption is that thetext of Elections Clause legislation accurately communicates the scope of Congress’s pre-emptive intent.

Nonetheless, 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 “deny[ing] registration based on information in their possession establishing the applicant’s ineligibility.” Pp. 6–13.

(c) Arizona is correct that the Elections Clause empowers Congress to regulate how federal elections are held, but not who may vote in them. The latter is the province of the States. See U. S. Const., Art. I, §2, cl. 1; Amdt. 17. It would raise serious constitutional doubts if a federal statute precluded a State from obtaining the information necessary to enforce its voter qualifications. The NVRA can be read to avoid such a conflict, however. Section 1973gg–7(b)(1) permits theEAC to include on the Federal Form information “necessary to enablethe appropriate State election official to assess the eligibility of theapplicant.” That validly conferred discretionary executive authorityis properly exercised (as the Government has proposed) to require theinclusion of Arizona’s concrete-evidence requirement if such evidenceis necessary to enable Arizona to enforce its citizenship qualification.
The NVRA permits a State to request the EAC to include statespecific instructions on the Federal Form, see 42 U. S. C. §1973gg–7(a)(2), and a State may challenge the EAC’s rejection of that request(or failure to act on it) in a suit under the Administrative Procedure Act. That alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications remains open to Arizona here. Should the EAC reject or decline to act on a renewed request, Arizona would have the opportunity to establish in a reviewing court that amere oath will not suffice to effectuate its citizenship requirement and that the EAC is therefore under a nondiscretionary duty to include Arizona’s concrete-evidence requirement on the Federal Form. Pp. 13–17.

677 F. 3d 383, affirmed.
SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,

C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined, and in which KENNEDY, J., joined in part. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., and ALITO, J., filed dissenting opinions.

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