By Daniel Strauss - 06/18/13 12:25 AM EDT
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday to overturn an Arizona law requiring people to prove their U.S. citizenship before taking part in the federal “motor voter” registration program immediately reverberated in the Senate’s debate on immigration reform
The 7-2 ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia prompted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to announce an amendment to the Senate bill that would permit states to require people to prove their citizenship before registering to vote.
The Senate’s debate over immigration reform is already touching on a series of hot-button issues, including healthcare reform, welfare benefits and the security of the border. Critics of the Senate bill have sought to prevent illegal immigrants who will be granted a path to citizenship under the bill from getting early access to ObamaCare, for example.
Voting rights will be added to the mix given the timing of the high court’s majority opinion, which said federal law trumped Arizona’s measure. And it comes as many grassroots opponents of immigration reform already worry about voting by illegal immigrants.
Scalia, long considered the court’s leading voice on the right, wrote that Arizona was precluded “from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself.”
The decision affirmed a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 supersedes Arizona’s Proposition 200, which was approved by the state’s voters in 1993.
The National Voter Act requires that people be offered a voter registration form when applying for a driver’s license, but does not require proof of citizenship for turning it in.
Scalia joined Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s four liberal justices in the majority, splitting with fellow conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
Thomas, writing the dissenting opinion, argued that the U.S. Constitution “authorizes states to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections, which necessarily includes the related power to determine whether those qualifications are satisfied.”
Cruz’s office said his amendment would state that “federal Motor Voter law does not preempt state laws that require ID for voter registration.”
The decision and Cruz’s amendment comes as a heated national debate over immigration intensifies in the Senate.
Supporters of a bipartisan immigration reform bill hope to move it out of the Senate by the end of the month with a strong vote. Republican opponents of the bill argue more provisions should be added to the bill to ensure the border is better secured.
The prospects for Cruz’s amendment were not immediately clear, though it could be difficult for senators to oppose an amendment giving states the choice or requiring that people prove their citizenship to register to vote through the “motor voter” federal law.
Arizona has repeatedly faced legal challenges over laws related to citizenship and immigration. Much of its law allowing police to arrest people suspected of being illegal immigrants was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year.
Civil rights groups had battled Proposition 200, arguing it would chill participation in the voting process by minority groups.
“Arizona has a history of voter obstruction and to civil rights organizations this requirement was another attempt at chilling the participation of minorities and the court’s decision is reassurance of national constitutional protection and agreement by the court that voter fraud is hype not reality,” Arizona State University professor Evelyn Haydee Cruz, who directs the school’s Immigration Law & Policy Clinic, said in an email to The Hill.
“Libertarians and conservatives in the state will see it as another example of the federal government mingling in what they consider to be a state’s right to control itself and an invitation to corrupt the voter lists in Arizona,” she added.