The U.S. Supreme Court may be holding the political future of the United States in its hand as it tries to decide how far the states may go in requiring identification from those who attempt to vote. Last week, the justices heard argument on whether Arizona or any state may require proof of citizenship for voter registration. An eventual decision in the case could shape the national political landscape for some time. Seventeen states have enacted laws requiring the presentation of some type of government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license, before voting. The Brennan Center for Justice said those 17 states account for 218 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The Arizona case pits the state requirement for proof of U.S. citizenship against the federal “Motor Voter” law that requires only filling out a form to register for federal elections.
In a brief filed on behalf on some members of a coalition challenging the state law, The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said, “In the 2008 presidential election alone, 28 million citizens used the Federal Form to register to vote by mail, in person, or as part of a voter registration drive.”
Republicans who have sponsored such laws say they are necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud. Democrats say Republicans have presented no evidence of widespread fraud, and the laws are only a thinly veiled campaign to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly and the poor — those least likely to have a driver’s license and most likely to vote Democratic.
During argument in the Arizona case, the justices appeared to be divided along the court’s ideological fault line, with four conservative justices favoring the state and four liberals favoring the state law’s challengers, leaving Justice Anthony Kennedy as a possible swing vote.
SCOTUSBLOG.com reported Kennedy focused on whether an appeals court ruling striking down the state law used the correct constitutional analysis. A Huffington Post report also focused on Kennedy, who appeared to be arguing for both sides of the case from the bench.
Justice Antonin Scalia led conservatives in support of the state law, worrying over the meaning of “may” in the language of the federal law.
The case, Arizona vs. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Inc., first reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006’s Purcell vs. Gonzalez. Though the justices did not reach a resolution, they sent the case back down to the lower courts.