In another repudiation of efforts by Arizona and its Republican political leadership to hound undocumented foreign citizens within its borders, the United States Supreme court yesterday struck down a state law that required voters to present state-issued driving licenses before casting their ballots.
Arizona has stood out among states in the US for passing tough measures to discourage illegal aliens from settling in the state, including the passage of laws since President Barack Obama came to office that were designed to allow police officers essentially to stop and question anyone who looked they might be from a different country.
In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court justices said the provision passed by the state several years earlier in 2004 known as Proposition 200 had since been trumped by the federal voter registration act and therefore should be voided. The Proposition required voters to present driving licenses at the ballot stations as proof of American citizenship. Critics said this discouraged many legal immigrants, who do not have licenses, from voting.
The two dissenters yesterday were conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Similar measures are in place in a handful of other conservative-trending states. They have been opposed by the Democratic Party which says they are an attempt by Republicans to manipulate elections in their favour. Those voters without driving licenses often include minorities and the poor, who are generally not Republican supporters.
The ruling comes as the US Congress is getting into the fine details of proposals for a sweeping new federal immigration policy that is strongly backed by President Obama. Because many of its candidates, including Mitt Romney, fared poorly among Hispanics in particular in 2012, the Republican Party is gingerly participating in the debate stirring hopes that a bi-partisan bargain on an omnibus immigration bill will be achieved.
The ruling was applauded by civil rights groups. “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,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.