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Justice Department Sues Arizona over State Law Imposing Proof of Citizenship Requirements for Voting

Kristen Clarke

Kristen Clarke delivers remarks after being nominated to be civil rights division assistant attorney general by President-elect Joe Biden at The Queen Theater Jan. 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Department of Justice sued Arizona on Tuesday over the state’s strict voter identification requirements, which the chief of the civil rights division called a “textbook violation” of federal law.

The Grand Canyon state was one of the most bitterly contested battlegrounds of the 2020 presidential election.

FOX News’s early, and accurate, calling of the race for President Joe Biden signaled Donald Trump’s then-impending defeat — and set off furious protests by the former president’s supporters and lawyers. Biden won there by more than 10,000 votes in a victory affirmed by court rulings, recounts, and audits. Even pro-Trump auditors, using methods repudiated by official authorities, affirmed the result and even expanded Biden’s lead.

That has not stopped Arizona’s Republican lawmakers from reacting to the perceived, but never proven, specter of “fraud” with House Bill 2492, which imposed proof-of-citizenship requirements.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who became the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Division in May 2021, called such restrictions “onerous.” Voting rights advocates warn as many as 192,000 Arizonans might be purged from voter rolls because they registered before proof of citizenship was added to the requirements.

“House Bill 2492’s onerous documentary proof of citizenship requirement for certain federal elections constitutes a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” Clarke said in a statement. “For nearly three decades, the National Voter Registration Act has helped to move states in the right direction by eliminating unnecessary requirements that have historically made it harder for eligible voters to access the registration rolls. Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back on progress by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections.”

The Justice Department claims that Arizona’s law flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s holding in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc., which rejected an earlier and similar law in 2013.

According to the lawsuit, Arizona lawmakers ignored explicit warnings to this effect during public hearings.

“During hearings on HB 2492, State nonpartisan legislative counsel warned Arizona legislators that the NVRA preempts HB 2492’s [documentary proof of citizenship] requirement for federal-only voters and that imposing such a requirement would directly contravene the Supreme Court’s decision in ITCA,” the 17-page complaint states.

In voting for the law, House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham (R) acknowledged as much but opined that trying against “is a fight worth having,” the lawsuit continues.

The new law also requires that prospective voters provide the place they were born, as opposed to their citizenship.

“A prospective registrant’s birthplace is not material to determining that person’s qualifications to vote,” the lawsuit notes. “Individuals born outside the country can nonetheless be native citizens if born to United States citizen parents or they may acquire citizenship through the naturalization process.”

The form also requires the applicant to check a box indicating their citizenship, described in the lawsuit as a “technical requirement that voters be able to read and precisely follow instructions on how to fill out a form.”

The Justice Department wants a judge to declare that the law violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It wants to block enforcement of the law.

Read the lawsuit below:

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."