WASHINGTON, DC - Today, in a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arizona voters who challenged that state’s restrictions on voter registration, concluding that Arizona’s Proposition 200 must yield to the National Voter Registration Act. MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed the original lawsuit on behalf of voters in the case decided today as Arizona v. ITCA. In his majority opinion, Justice Scalia said, “We conclude that the fairest reading of the statute is that a state-imposed requirement of evidence of citizen¬ship not required by the Federal Form is “inconsistent with” the NVRA’s mandate that States “accept and use” the Federal Form . . .the Elections Clause requires that Arizona’s rule give way.” Justices Thomas and Alito dissented.

The case was brought by Jesus Gonzalez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was rejected for voter registration under Arizona Proposition 200, which requires that persons registering to vote in Arizona first present copies of specific documents showing that they are United States citizens.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Arizona measure is preempted by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, which permits U.S. citizens from any state to register to vote by means of a simple, standardized postcard. Applicants sign the postcard, under penalty of perjury, affirming their citizenship and other qualifications. No additional documentation is necessary or requested under this law. The Court further held, “States retain the flexibility to design and use their own registration forms, but the Federal Form provides a backstop: No matter what procedural hurdles a State’s own form imposes, the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available.”
“Today’s decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law,” stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation and lead counsel for the voters who challenged Proposition 200. “The Supreme Court has affirmed that all U.S. citizens have the right to register to vote using the national postcard, regardless of the state in which they live,” concluded Perales.

In a two-year period following passage of Proposition 200, Arizona denied voter registration to more than 31,500 applicants for failing to provide additional documentation. In Maricopa County alone, community voter registration plummeted by 44 percent.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held last summer in an 8-2 en banc ruling that provisions of the Arizona law violate and are superseded by the NVRA. MALDEF argued the case at the District Court level and three times before the Ninth Circuit.

MALDEF President and General Counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, stated, “Arizona, and those states that choose to follow its irresponsible legislating, received a strong message today. The federal government has, through the NVRA, made clear that states may not place unnecessary and unreasonable obstacles to voter participation.”

MALDEF’s clients in the case include individuals who were rejected for voter registration under Proposition 200, 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.

Additional organizations contested Proposition 200 by filing a later lawsuit, which was then consolidated with the case MALDEF filed. MALDEF’s co-counsel include Danny Ortega of Ortega and Associates and the law firm of Perkins Coie.

A copy of the Court’s opinion is available here.

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