Supreme Court denies states’ request for proof of voter citizenship

Greg Nash

The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case allowing states to require proof of citizenship for those applying to vote in federal elections, effectively upholding a lower court ruling against Kansas and Arizona.

Those states wanted the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change its registration requirements to include proof of citizenship for those applying to vote in federal elections, as the states require for those using their state forms.

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By not taking the case, the Supreme Court leaves in place a November 2014 ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the states cannot require the documentation for applicants using the so-called “federal form.”

Voting rights advocates hailed the court's decision to not take up the case, Kobach v. United States Election Assistance Commission. Currently, the federal agency's form only requires applicants swear eligibility under penalty of perjury.

“This is a very big deal,” Rick Hasen, a University of California Irvine law professor, wrote on his election law blog. “Kobach had the potential to shift more power away from the federal government in administering elections toward the states.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Arizona could not require those using the federal form to provide proof of citizenship.

“Arizona citizens can continue to participate in voter registration drives without worrying about not having proof of citizenship documents,” said Shirley Sandelands of the League of Women Voters, one of the voting rights groups that urged the court to not hear the appeal.

The Brennan Center for Justice and several law firms that represented the group praised the Supreme Court in a joint statement for “securing a critical victory to strengthen the right to vote in federal elections in Arizona and Kansas and reaffirming the important role Congress plays in preserving a fair voter registration process across the country.”

“The Supreme Court decision not to review was not particularly surprising given the fact that there was no circuit split yet,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who filed the joint appeal to the federal appellate court decision with Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said in an interview with Roll Call

Typically, Kobach told the newspaper, “the Supreme Court favors reviewing decisions where one circuit has gone one way and another circuit has gone another way. It appears that the Supreme Court is waiting for another circuit to weigh in.” 

Kobach expects the 11th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over the two states, to eventually weigh in, according to Roll Call.

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