Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

PETITIONER: Arizona, et al.
RESPONDENT: Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, et al.
LOCATION: Arizona State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 12-71
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 570 US (2013)
GRANTED: Oct 15, 2012
ARGUED: Mar 18, 2013
DECIDED: Jun 17, 2013

Patricia A. Millett - for the respondents
Sri Srinivasan - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondents
Thomas C. Horne - Attorney General of Arizona, for the petitioners

Facts of the case

On November 2, 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, which required voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote or casting a ballot. Shortly after the Proposition passed, a group of plaintiffs, including the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona sued the state. They argued that Proposition 200 violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth and Twenty-fourth Amendments, and is inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The district court denied a preliminary injunction, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted an emergency injunction to allow the case to proceed without allowing Proposition 200 to affect the 2006 election. The Supreme Court vacated the emergency injunction and remanded the case for consideration on the merits. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction and held that the Proposition was not an unconstitutional poll tax and did not violate the NVRA. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment for Arizona. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part by holding that the Proposition was not an unconstitutional poll tax and did not violate the NVRA, but that the NVRA preempts the Proposition's requirements.


Did the United States Court of Appeals err by creating a new test of preemption?

If so, does the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 preempt other voter registration requirements?

Media for Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 18, 2013 in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 2013 in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has our opinion this morning in case 12-71, Arizona versus the Intertribal Council of Arizona.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to “accept and use,” that's the crucial language here, a uniform Federal Form to register voters for federal elections.

The Federal Form developed by the Election Assistance Commission requires that an applicant aver under penalty of perjury that he is a citizen.

The Federal Form does not require however any concrete evidence of citizenship.

Arizona law does.

It requires voter registration officials to reject any application for registration including a Federal Form that is not accompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship.

The Ninth Circuit held that Arizona's requirement as applied to Federal Form applicants is preempted by the Federal Act's mandate and state's accept and use of the Federal Form.

Arizona argues that accept and use requires only that a state “willingly receive” the Federal Form and use it in some way not that it be deemed conclusive of valid registration.

That is certainly a possible meaning of accept, a merchant's notice that he will accept visa credit cards does not mean that he will not require in addition personal identification.

But reading except merely to require willing receipt seems out of place in the context of an official mandate to accept something for a given purpose.

Imagine for example a government diktat that civil servants shall accept government IOUs for payment of salaries.

That command certainly does not invite the response, “Sure, we'll accept IOUs if you pay us a 10% down payment in cash.”

The implication of a mandate to accept is that that object is to be accepted as sufficient for the requirement it is meant to satisfy.

Here, the requirement of registration.

Many other federal statutes impose and accept requirement that obviously bears this meaning.

Arizona's reading is also difficult to reconcile with other provisions of the voting rights -- the Voting Registration Act as we explained in detail in our opinion.

In some, the Act forbids states to demand that an applicant submit additional information beyond that required by the Federal Form.

We add an important caveat however the Act does not prevents states from denying registration based on any information in their possession establishing the applicant's ineligibility.

Arizona seeks to vindicate its reading of the statute by invoking the canon of construction that statutory ambiguities should be resolved in a fashion that avoids constitutional doubt.

The constitution, Arizona rightly points out, empowers Congress to regulate how federal elections are held but with a few exceptions not relevant here, does not permit Congress to regulate who may vote in federal elections.

Determining what qualifications of voter must possess is the province of the states.

Arizona is correct that it would raise serious constitutional doubts if a federal statute prevented a state from obtaining the information necessary to enforce its voter qualifications.

But to avoid these doubts, it is not necessary to give accept and use a meaning that allows Arizona to deny the sufficiency of the Federal Form.

At oral argument, the United States expressed the view that one section of the statute requires the Election Assistance Commission.

You remember them there that people that design the form, requires the Election Assistance Commission to include on the Federal Form information “Necessary to enable the appropriate state election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant.”

We need not consider whether the statute requires that.

It is enough that the executive has discretionary authority to apply it that way in order to avoid serious constitutional doubt.

One further elaboration, the Voter Registration Act provides that any state may ask the Commission to include state specific instructions on the Federal Form, and the Commission has done that for some other states.

If the Commission rejects such a request or fails to act upon it, a state may seek judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act.