Federal Courts Give State Another Chance to Argue it has Legal Rights to Require Would-Be Voters to Prove Citizenship

Phoenix, AZ – A 2004 voter-approved initiative requires proof of citizenship to register to vote and identification to cast a ballot at the polls. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued, calling that discriminatory. In a split decision last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement but said the citizenship proof mandate runs afoul of the National Voter Registration Act. Now the full 9th circuit has agreed to review that ruling. Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who defends the requirement, said that's good news.

(When you have a 2-to-1 split on a three-judge panel, I think it's very possible that a broader panel will come to a different conclusion that the two and the one. And the one was the chief justice who dissented very strongly.)

But MALDEF attorney Nina Perales said that does not mean the full court, in what is called en banc review, will overturn the earlier ruling. She noted that a different three-judge panel reached the opposite conclusion about the reach of the federal law three years earlier.

(And it may be that the court is taking this case en banc just to settle things, in which case we expect the decision to come out in our favor.)

Whatever the full 11-member panel rules is unlikely to be the last word. Whoever loses is expected to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.