The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to rule on the constitutionality of a state requirement that voters must prove they are U.S. citizens before they register to vote and cast their ballots. The Court granted review of an Arizona case in which it previously had refused the state’s request to block a lower court decision that struck down that requirement. Arizona’s voters adopted that law when they passed “Proposition 200″ in 2004. The Court will not rule on the case until after this year’s election, so the requirement will not be in effect next month. (The case is Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., docket 11-71.) That was the only new case granted Monday. In one significant denial, the Court refused to consider imposing a heavier duty on managers of employee retirement plans to justify investing plan assets in the company’s own stock. The Court turned aside without comment two petitions on that issue. (Gray v. Citigroup, 11-1531, and Gearren v. McGraw-Hill Companies, 11-1550.)
The new Arizona voting rights case is important not only because of the citizenship proof requirement, but perhaps even more so because it calls on the Court to sort out the cooperative but sometimes conflicting roles of the state governments and Congress in regulating election procedures. In its petition, the state of Arizona complained that the Ninth Circuit Court, in nullifying Proposition 200, had created a new test for when states must yield to Congress in their control of elections.
The grant of review was a bit of a surprise, since the Court on the last day of last Term had denied a stay application, over the lone dissent of Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. That denial assured that the citizenship mandate would not be imposed for the November 6 election, but it did not settle whether the Court would grant review. That is what happened with the order Monday morning. The case probably will be argued in February, with a decision by the end of the Term in late June.
Under the Constitution, state legislatures are given the authority to decide “the time, place and manner” of holding elections, including elections for federal offices, but Congress is given the authority to “make or alter such regulations.” The Ninth Circuit interpreted that Elections Clause to give Congress full and final veto power over any state law or regulation dealing with federal elections — that is, for Congress and for the Presidency. Congress used that power in 1993, in enacting the National Voter Registration Act, the Circuit Court said, and any state requirement that conflicts with that Act’s provisions must yield.