Political Animal


March 18, 2013 4:36 PM Supremes Could Undermine Voting Rights, Beyond Voting Rights Act

By Ed Kilgore

Most of the attention among voting rights advocates in this session of the Supreme Court have been quite naturally focused on the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, where’s there is a better-than-even chance five Justices could decide at a minimum to force Congress to reconsider the law’s jurisdictional reach.

But the Court heard oral arguments today on a different voting rights issue, in a case now being described as a potential “sleeper:” a conflict between the federal “motor voter” statute and an Arizona law requiring that potential voters provide proof of citizenship. And unlike the issues of discrimination raised in the VRA case, the Arizona case is a straight-out matter of the extent to which federal election laws may trump (or more technically, “pre-empt”) state election laws.

Today’s arguments led to conflict between Justices Sotomayor and Scalia, as you might imagine, with Scalia leading the charge for a very limited federal involvement in election laws, per this report from TPM’s Sahil Kapur:

Scalia set his marker early in the argument, openly lamenting that Arizona did not launch a more sweeping challenge to the validity of the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act], arguing that Congress may not prohibit states from seeing proof of the eligibility of a voter prior to registering him or her.

But SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston suggests the Court may deal with the case as an issue of statutory interpretation—whether the proof-of-citizenship requirement can in fact be squared with the NVRA without reaching the more basic constitutional issue. But stay tuned.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • fostert on March 18, 2013 4:47 PM:

    Somehow, Scalia didn't see a problem with the federal government intervening in state election law in Bush v Gore.

  • Tom on March 18, 2013 4:52 PM:

    If the response to the Republican's Pennsylvania voter suppression scheme in the last election is any guide, any attempt to impose greater ID requirements will only drive more people to the poles and away from Republicans.

  • c u n d gulag on March 18, 2013 4:55 PM:

    Scalia should retire, and have his own Reich-wing radio talk show.

    The man's, as the great Charles Pierce puts it, just mailing it in, lately.

    And mailing it in, from Crazy Town!

    He wants to do as much damage as he can to President Obama and the Democratic party, and voters, as he can, before Satan invites him down to be his own personal eternal Sicilian pinata.

  • Doug on March 18, 2013 5:07 PM:

    What part of Article I, Section 4, para. 1: "...but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Repgulations..." doesn't Justice (?!?!) Scalia understand?

  • jkl; on March 18, 2013 5:12 PM:

    Right wingnutters are the biggest problem we have. This morning Joe Scarborough made a wacked-out comment that he supported Rand Paul. He liked his isolationist antiwar stance. Steve Rattner pointed out the obvious, that Scarbourough neglected to comment on the intelligence of the candidate's stated stances on eliminating the Federal Reserve, the Departments of Energy, Education and Commerce. Or the impacts that dissolution would have on the country. (I.e., Rand Paul is crazy)
    I am so sick of thinking about the short and long term effects of right wing nuttiness. And I'm on vacation.

    Agree with gulag too.

  • Sadtothebone on March 18, 2013 5:58 PM:

    Scalia's judicial activism is clearly a manifestion of his own political and religious views and as such he seems to be disinterested in the law or the facts when they are not in sync with his views. He seems to suffer from a rather overblown view of his own self importance at the expense of respect for others or the views of others.