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Victory for Voters as Supreme Court Rejects Arizona Law

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an Arizona law passed in 2004 requiring that voters prove their United States citizenship in order to register to vote. The Court ruled in a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Antonin Scalia that states could not impose additional requirements for registration beyond those included in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (also called the "motor voter" law).

Voting rights advocates, many of whom were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, immediately praised the decision as a big win for voters across the nation. Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater said in a statement that the law had "stymied community based voter registration drives and created unreasonable hurdles for eligible Americans who wanted to register," affecting tens of thousands of potential Arizona voters in the process. Jenny Flanagan, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, called the decision "a major victory for American voters," and expressed hope that it will lead other elected officials throughout the nation to "see the wisdom of directing their energy toward expanding – not limiting – the right to vote."

The defeat of the law is also a defeat for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), who, as the Center for Media and Democracy notes, had adopted it as a model policy following its passage in Arizona in 2004. The decision will also affect a handful of states who enacted copycat laws, including Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said this week that the ruling would hinder efforts in his state to enforce their similar law passed in 2009.

The decision in the Arizona case arrived as the entire nation continued to anticipate the Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — a case where, despite the welcome ruling in Arizona, the outcome is still far from certain. (For more on the growing momentum this year behind state legisative efforts to expand and protect voting rights, check out PSN's 2013 Election Reform Session Roundup.)