Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona’s Burdensome Restriction on Voting by Naturalized Citizens

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2013

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, today struck down Arizona’s burdensome restrictions that demanded additional documentary proof of citizenship beyond the proof already required by federal law.

The Court held that the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) preempts Arizona’s state Proposition 200. This decision was welcomed by a coalition of Latino and Asian American civil rights organizations that united to thwart Proposition 200 and to protect the voting rights of naturalized citizens.

“While Prop 200 was mostly designed to make life difficult for immigrants living in Arizona, it suppressed all citizens’ voting rights, as well,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “During the recent election we saw many attempts to restrict the voting rights of Latinos and this is just another bite at the apple. These laws strike at the fundamental rights that we extend to all citizens in this country.”

LatinoJustice PRLDEF joined with the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), Asian Law Caucus, and the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund in leading 28 Latino and Asian American organizations in filing a friend-of-the court brief in the case.

“Citizens from our communities are the primary targets for exclusion from the polls under Proposition 200,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. “Today’s decision strengthens their participation in a fair and accessible democratic process. However, we must remain vigilant against further attempts to make voting more difficult for all citizens.”

Between January 2005 and September 2007, Arizona rejected more than 31,000 voter registration applicants under Proposition 200. A disproportionate number of these rejections fell on naturalized citizens for whom the state’s documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements posed special obstacles. Of the six methods of documentation Arizona would accept, only three were realistically available to naturalized citizens, and even these often presented significant challenges for reasons beyond the applicant’s control.

Latinos and Asians compose a large majority of Arizona’s naturalized citizen population: 50.8 percent of the state’s naturalized citizens of voting age are Latino and 18.7 percent are Asian American.

“We are pleased to see the Court recognize the importance of the NVRA and the value in robust voter participation among the nation’s second largest population group and all Americans,” stated Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Educational Fund. “Our democracy thrives when all its citizens are able to participate fully in our nation’s rich civic life, and states across the country should be actively working towards this goal by making the political process more accessible to the Latino community and all eligible voters.”

“The Court sent a strong message that laws that disenfranchise and discriminate against naturalized citizens by imposing barriers to voter registration conflict with the NVRA and cannot stand,” said Catherine Weiss, chair of the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, which represented the coalition on a pro bono basis.

The other organizations joining the friend-of-the-court brief were: Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote, Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, Asian American Institute, Asian Law Alliance, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Asian Services in Action, Inc., Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Center for Asian Pacific American Women, Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc., Chinese for Affirmative Action, Chinese Progressive Association, Filipino Advocates for Justice, Hispanic Federation, Hispanic National Bar Association, Japanese American Citizens League, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Institute of Latino Policy, National Organization of Mexican American Rights, Inc., OneAmerica, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and South Asian Bar Association of Northern California.

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