Supreme Court cases are often frustrating to interpret because the justices regularly weigh in on legal concepts that are not necessarily related to the public policy involved in a case.
Case in point is Monday’s ruling that struck down an Arizona law requiring prospective voters to prove their citizenship.
The justices didn’t determine whether they thought the measure was good or bad.
Led by conservative Antonin Scalia, they reached a near-unanimous verdict around the issue of federalism. Justices from left and right agreed that federal law trumps state law in federal elections.
As a result, Arizona’s law was ruled unconstitutional because it tried to surpass federal election standards. The latter, Scalia explained, already include a form that requires a voter to attest to citizenship.
The court’s ruling upheld a crucial precedent that goes far beyond election laws.
The idea that federal law trumps state law holds us together as a nation.
At the same time, Scalia left open the option for states to amend their voter registration laws so they surpass the federal form.
Writing for the majority, Scalia said states could ask Congress to let them require voters to prove their citizenship upon registration.
They also could appeal to a federal election commission and ask a federal court for the right to go beyond the federal form.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz already has started down that first lane.
Scalia’s ink was barely dry when the freshman announced he would try to amend the Senate’s current immigration bill. The Houston Republican would let states require voters to prove their citizenship upon registering to vote in federal elections.
The Senate should resist that amendment.
First, where’s the evidence that noncitizens are wildly abusing voter registration laws?
It doesn’t exist — just as widespread voter fraud didn’t exist in Texas when legislators passed a 2011 law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the ballot box.
Second, requiring voters to prove their citizenship creates a burden of proof far beyond the photo ID requirement that Texas and other states have tried to put upon voters.
Cruz’s amendment would force voters to find their birth certificates or citizenship papers before registering.
Both requirements are unnecessary encumbrances, but the citizenship proof is an especially onerous bar. As a nation and a state, we should encourage voter participation, not restrict it.
Third, Cruz’s amendment is a back-door way to kill the immigration bill.
His proposal would make it impossible for many other senators who want to overhaul our immigration laws to support the Senate’s bipartisan bill.
Cruz has every right to oppose the legislation, but his amendment is a trap.
As we wrote in opposing Texas’ voter ID law, the voting system has been tested and proved dependable. We mess with it at our peril.