Demos Amicus Brief Urges Supreme Court to Strike Down Arizona Proposition 200

Release Date: 
January 22, 2013

NEW YORK - Today, Demos and O’Melveny and Myers LLP filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of respondents in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (No. 12-71) on behalf of community-based voter registration organizations Rock the Vote, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”), Border Action Network, Fair Share Alliance and Fair Share Alliance Education Fund, Mi Familia Vota, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Nonprofit VOTE, People for the American Way Foundation, Promise Arizona and Promise Arizona in Action, Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, Virginia New Majority, and Voto Latino. The brief urges the Court to strike down the portion of Arizona Proposition 200 that requires documentary proof of citizenship to accompany any voter registration application, even when applicants have attested to citizenship under oath. Arizona’s law directly conflicts with the federal National Voter Registration Act, which has the purpose of streamlining the registration process and prohibits unnecessary obstacles to voter registration.

READ THE AMICUS BRIEF: http://demos.io/UQS0yu

The brief filed today details the real-world negative impact that Arizona’s extreme documentation requirements have on the ability of community-based voter registration organizations to register eligible citizens to vote, particularly through registration drives. Proposition 200 requires that a potential registrant produce a post-1996 Arizona driver’s license, a current U.S. passport, a birth certificate, naturalization documents, or selected Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal identification documents. Many eligible citizens do not possess these narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many do not carry them while conducting their daily affairs. Community-based registration efforts overwhelmingly rely on approaching individuals who did not plan in advance to register at that time or location and who are thus unlikely to be carrying a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation. Even when a potential registrant does happen to be carrying one of the required documents, logistical hurdles—ranging from an inability to copy documents on the spot to an unwillingness to hand over sensitive identification documents to registration drive volunteers—greatly hinder the ability of community-based organizations to register people in Arizona. In short, community-based voter registration efforts are made more difficult, less effective, and more expensive as a result of Proposition 200’s citizenship documentation requirements.

This actual on-the-ground impact of Arizona’s Proposition 200 is at odds with the explicit purpose of the NVRA. As the brief states:

The exclusion of eligible citizens from the political process is one of the most serious and stubborn problems in our democracy. . . .

According to Lisa Danetz, Senior Counsel at Demos, “Community voter registration drives have helped register millions of new eligible voters—including often marginalized low income individuals, youth and people of color—proving to be an indispensable tool for ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity and equal voice in the policies that affect their lives. In attempting to limit, rather than expand these registration efforts, Arizona’s Proposition 200 would make this essential tool of democracy effectively unavailable, in direct conflict with the language and purpose of the NVRA. We urge the Court to strike down the law, to guarantee an inclusive democracy.”

Jonathan D. Hacker, chair of O’Melveny & Myers’ Supreme Court and Appellate Practice, agrees, saying that “voter registration rates in the United States fall far below those in other democracies such as Canada and Great Britain, and the rates are even worse among young people, members of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income individuals, and naturalized citizens. Community-based registration is one of the most effective tools for combating this problem: By eliminating many commonly cited barriers to registration, such as lack of understanding about the registration process, mobility impairments, and language issues, community-based registration organizations play a crucial role in bringing citizens into the electorate and ensuring their full participation in our nation’s democracy. We hope that the Court will affirm the judgment of the 9th Circuit and ensure that community-based organizations may continue to effectively carry out their great work in Arizona.”

The Supreme Court will hear argument on March 18, 2013.

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