Arizona Voter Registration Law

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The United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found part of an Arizona voter registration law unconstitutional. Danny Ortega, attorney and past Chairman for the National Council of La Raza, will talk about the ruling and the Voting Rights Act.

Jose Cardenas: During its recently completed term the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling dealing with part of an Arizona registration law, held it unconstitutional. Joining me to talk about that decision and the Voting Rights Act Case, another controversial case, attorney and past chairman for La Raza, Daniel Ortega. In many ways you have been directly involved in both cases, one specifically, the voter registration while you were counsel for one of the parties. Tell us about that.

Daniel Ortega: Well, the case started initially as a challenge to proposition 200, both provisions, those dealing with state benefits for the up documented as well as changing the registration laws of the state. The only thing that survived was the challenge against part of prop 200 that changed the manner in which you registered to vote which means you had to provide proof of citizenship, two, the manner in which you voted, which means you had to provide an identity document that showed you are the person you said you were. We challenged those and unfortunately at the trial level we lost it. We took it to the Court of Appeals and the portion that we wanted was the one where the court agreed that when it came to the federal form under the vote motor law that allowed people to register to vote without proof of citizenship, that the state was preempted from requiring a citizenship proof in order to register to vote. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people registered with the federal form and their registrations were rejected because they didn't provide proof because the form didn't require it. All it required was -- [audio not understandable] Before prop 200 everyone could register to vote if they said they weren't a felon, were over 18 years of age. Under prop 200 that changed. The particular challenge was only whether the state could impose on a federal form the requirement to show proof of citizenship.

Jose Cardenas: Justice Scalia said no.

Daniel Ortega: Yes, the majority of court said no.

Jose Cardenas: Was that a surprise that Justice Scalia voted in the majority.

Daniel Ortega: Big surprise to me but after reading the opinion Justice Scalia had to add more to his majority opinion where he was telling the state of Arizona, well, it's a problem but you can remedy this. You can go to the elections commission and try to get a preemption.

Jose Cardenas: Some think that was inappropriate. To basically tell a state how you can fix this.

Daniel Ortega: Well, there have been other situations, prop -- SB 1070 and others where he has done this. He's got a history of this.

Jose Cardenas: Let's move on to what many people think is much more significant decision, the voting rights act. You have been involved at the ground level on a lot of these issues.

Daniel Ortega: Well, I have been involved in two major voting rights act cases other than the one we just talked to as well as on the ground in terms of the voting rights act. What happened in the voting rights act, you have section 4 and section 5, which we only have time to deal with here. Section 4 basically has the mechanism or the formula for which states, which localities, municipalities, counties should be included in the pre-clearance process. In other words, you cannot pass a law that changes an election law without first getting clearance by the federal government. The court said the formula and the facts that were used to support that were antiquated, that it went back to the '60s, the facts of the '60s did not fit the situation today. The court I think historically did well appeared said, what existed in the '60s, in terms of the blatant discrimination, particularly against African-Americans in the south, and Latinos in the southwest to some degree, had to stop. That it was discriminatory. That's why the voting rights act was passed. As it continued to be extended a lot of the same facts according to the court that were being used to support the extension no longer applied to the situation today, and as a result, they declared unconstitutional section 4, which is the mechanism for determining who should be a part of pre-clearance under section . Section 5 is still alive, but in essence it's dead because there's no formula. Who is going to be covered and who is not?

Jose Cardenas: Many people have said those provisions may be effectively dead but the voting rights act isn't.

Daniel Ortega: The voting rights act is alive and well. The part of the process, what we see is people of color, Latinos particularly in Arizona, is the scrutiny to which the legislature, commissions like the redistricting commission, the scrutiny they were subject to in pre-clearance to make sure the voting rights act was complied with, that will not exist this. Is what I said to somebody today. We had the biggest law firm in the country helping us to make sure the voting rights act was properly applied. That was the federal government. That now is out of the equation until as the court says the Congress has a different formula for determining who should be included in pre-clearance.

Jose Cardenas: Ultimately maybe not that big of a deal but will just make things harder. Danny, thanks for coming on Horizonte.

Danny Ortega:Attorney & Past Chairman, National Council of La Raza;

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