The case 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.
A federal judge refused to issue an injunction against the implementation of the law in the case brought by a coalition of Hispanic, Indian and civil rights groups. However, a federal appellate panel, and then the entire 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, saying the law violated Article I of the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to make it easier to register for federal elections.
Article I says in part the "times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing senators."
Arizona successfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court for review.
Among the identification evidence accepted under Proposition 200 are a driver's license, birth certificate, naturalization documents, and a U.S. Bureau of Affairs or tribal card number. The law says each county recorder shall reject an application for registration not accompanied by such evidence.
In its petition for review, Arizona asked the Supreme Court to look at whether the appeals court erred "in creating a new heightened pre-emption test under ... [Article I's election clause]," and also made a mistake in "holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act pre-empts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote?"
In other words, the state said the appeals court erred in saying the state law was trumped by the federal law.
In a response brief for some members of the coalition, lawyers argued the appeals court "carefully examined the text of the Constitution, followed this [Supreme] Court's elections clause cases and correctly concluded that the standards for conducting a pre-emption analysis under the elections clause are less deferential to states than the standards for conducting a pre-emption analysis under the supremacy clause."
The supremacy clause, in Article VI of the Constitution, says federal law prevails when there is a conflict with state law.
A second response brief from a different group in the coalition tries to take an even more forceful tone.
"Arizona's argument fails on many levels," the brief told the Supreme Court. "To begin with ... a state's authority to regulate federal elections does not fall within its 10th Amendment reserved power, rather it is a delegated authority under Article I, Section 4."
The 10th Amendment is the foundation of federalism, saying, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
"Arizona's argument that the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco] did not find a conflict between the NVRA and Proposition 200 is flatly wrong," the brief said. "Contrary to Arizona's claim, the [appeals court] expressly found a conflict between the NVRA and Proposition 200. The 9th Circuit majority's concluding paragraph states ... '[g]iven the paramount authority delegated to Congress by the elections clause, we conclude that the NVRA supersedes Proposition 200's conflicting registration requirement for federal elections.'"
The brief said the appeals court majority ruled Arizona's "insistence on engrafting an additional requirement on the federal form [for registration under the NVRA] ... accentuates the conflict between the state and federal procedures."
The principle of requiring some kind of voter ID is widespread in the United States and the outcome of the Supreme Court Arizona case may shape the vote of the future.
Seventeen states have enacted laws requiring the presentation of a government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license. The Brennan Center for Justice said those 17 states account for 218 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
If the laws are implemented, the center said, millions of voters would be affected.
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