Anti-Immigrant Law Would Unduly Restrict Registration Of New Voters

A twenty-year old, and highly successful, federal voter registration law known as "Motor Voter" is at issue in a legal battle that MALDEF has been leading and winning for nearly seven years. The challenge to Arizona's Proposition 200, enacted in 2004, has made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA), a case about the constitutionality of Arizona’s law to require additional documentation of new voter registrants, will be heard by the Court this morning, March 18. MALDEF Vice President of Litigation, Nina Perales, is MALDEF's lead counsel in the case, and has successfully led the challenge through the District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, including a lopsided 8-2 victory before an en banc panel. Today is the final leg of a legal journey to protect the most basic principle of democracy—the right to vote.

Although the case now bears the name of a later-filed companion case, the case initially began in May of 2006 as Gonzalez v. Arizona, when MALDEF filed a lawsuit on behalf of individual voters, voter registration applicants, and Arizona community organizations, to block a provision of Proposition 200 because it forced U.S. citizens to meet unnecessary and discriminatory new identification requirements in order to vote in the then impending primary and general elections. MALDEF also sought to remove new “proof of citizenship” requirements that had prevented thousands of voter applicants from being placed on the rolls for those elections. The law was passed by Arizona voters in November 2004, as part of a broader law designed to deter undocumented immigration through denial of government services.

After years of legal battles, and a 2008 trial in the case, MALDEF won a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in October 2010, overturning the law’s requirement that new registrants meet onerous documentation requirements to prove citizenship to register to vote. The decision declared the right of Arizona citizens to register to vote, just one week before a critical national election. It was also a strong affirmance of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a law enacted by Congress in 1993, also known as "Motor Voter", to facilitate and increase participation of citizens in the electoral process.

The full Ninth Circuit court granted an Arizona request to review its panel's decision, but the eleven-judge en banc court upheld the panel decision in April 2012. The 8-2 en banc ruling (one of the eleven judges hearing the case passed away before the decision) concluded that Proposition 200's voter registration provision is unconstitutional because it is inconsistent with federal law guaranteeing uniform voter registration procedures established by the NVRA. The court concluded that Arizona's onerous documentation-of-citizenship procedure is preempted by Congress's legislation, under the Constitution's Elections Clause power, to establish a federal form for voters registering to vote in federal elections.

Arizona filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the decision. The denial of the request permitted many eligible Arizonans to register and participate in last year's election after the District Court ordered the state to comply with the Ninth Circuit decision.

In a last ditch effort to suppress participation, Arizona appealed the Ninth Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, where oral argument will be heard this morning. In a brief to the Court in January, MALDEF argued that Proposition 200 is unconstitutional because it oversteps federal law requirements for federal election registration, preventing many U.S. citizens from participating in those elections. For the text of the brief, CLICK HERE. The Court’s decision will be critical to the protection of voting rights in Arizona and other states in the nation

MALDEF represents individual voters and voter registrants as well as the following organizations: Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Valle del Sol, Friendly House, Chicanos Por La Causa, the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, Project Vote, and Common Cause. Danny Ortega of Ortega Law Firm P.C., and Karl Sandstrom of Perkins Coie are co-counsel with MALDEF in the case.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund