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High Court's Arizona Ruling Could Affect Texas

Texans is waiting to find out whether its voter ID law and its redistricting maps will be affected by a Supreme Court ruling on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But another ruling in an Arizona case could come into play.

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Even the Americans who cared to do so probably hadn’t read the Supreme Court’s opinion on an Arizona election case before U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, filed legislation to overturn it.

In a case with implications for Texas, the high court ruled in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona that the state must use a simple federal voter registration form created in 1993 instead of a state-issued form that requires proof of citizenship.

Cruz was not amused. He immediately filed an amendment to the Senate’s omnibus immigration reform bill authored by the so-called Gang of Eight that he said would fix the “loophole” that preempts states from enacting their own voting requirements.

“Justice Alito said in his dissent, ‘I do not think that this is what Congress intended’ and I agree with him,” Cruz said in a statement. “The Court’s ruling leaves a hole in federal law that allows non-citizens to register by using the promulgated federal form without showing proof of citizenship. This encourages voter fraud and we must ensure that our elections are fair and accurately reflect the will of our citizens.”

Under penalty of perjury, Texans must swear they are citizens when they register, even though the Texas secretary of state doesn’t require showing actual proof.

It’s unclear whether the Senate will adopt the Cruz amendment: His efforts to tweak the bill have not been well received so far, and Democrats control the upper chamber.

But some analysts said that justices created an outline for states to enact the proof-of-citizenship measure and defend it in lower courts. In short — get ready for another fight on voting, court watchers said.

Reporter Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog is a 50-year veteran of the high court beat and said the ruling, if not read closely, is easily misunderstood.

The Supreme Court, he wrote, gave Congress more power to expand the pool of eligible voters but simultaneously solidified the states’ rights in determining who gets to cast a ballot.

“The apparent bottom line: states cannot now require voters to show proof that they are U.S. citizens, but the Court has given them a plan that could gain them that power,” he said.

That plan, according to the opinion, he added, would be to have attorneys for Arizona — or any state for that matter, like, say, Texas — seek the federal government’s permission to add the proof-of-citizenship requirement.

“And, Scalia said, if that doesn’t work — either because the federal agency that would deal with such a request is either not functioning or says no — then a state would be free to go to court and make an argument that it has a constitutional right to insist on proof of citizenship as an absolute qualification for voting, in all elections,” he wrote.

So why does this matter to Texas? Democrats and Republicans have waited all month for the high court’s looming decision on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that several states — including Texas — seek and gain approval from the federal government before enacting laws that affect elections.

Even if Section 5 is kept in tact, Scalia’s “roadmap” on how to argue for the citizenship requirement could also be used to fight in favor of voter ID laws in any state.

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