Civil rights groups on Friday appealed a federal court decision that said states can require proof of citizenship on their voter registration forms — a ruling the activist groups said runs counter to Supreme Court precedent.
The groups also asked Judge Eric F. Melgren to stay his own ruling from earlier this month, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Judge Melgren had ruled that the federal Election Assistance Commission couldn’t refuse requests by Kansas and Arizona that voter registration cards distributed in their states include proof of citizenship requirements.
But the activists said that imposes an illegal burden on would-be voters.
“The EAC has the authority to reject the states’ unproven claims and unreasonable request to require more paperwork from eligible Americans who want to vote,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.”
Last week’s ruling was viewed as a major boost for states’ rights and a setback for President Obama and other allies who’d fought against stiffer checks.
The judge said the Constitution gives states the power to determine voter qualifications, and if states want to insist on proof of citizenship the election commission cannot overrule them.
“The EAC’s nondiscretionary duty is to perform the ministerial function of updating the instructions to reflect each state’s laws,” Judge Melgren ruled in a decision out of Kansas. “The court orders the EAC to add the language requested by Arizona and Kansas to the state-specific instructions of the federal mail voter registration form immediately.”
The activists, in their call for a stay, said they at least wanted the old rules to remain in place this year.
“Unless stayed, the March 19 decision will prevent Arizona and Kansas citizens who lack the required proof of citizenship from registering to vote for the upcoming 2014 federal elections,” they said.
Kris W. Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, said he was confident in the court’s ruling, saying the Constitution gives states the right to determine qualifications for voters.
“These groups want the EAC to have the power to second-guess the decisions of the sovereign states about how to protect the integrity of the voter rolls. The Constitution makes clear that not even Congress has that power, much less an unelected federal agency,” Mr. Kobach said.
Both Kansas and Arizona have state requirements that voters must prove their citizenship at the point they register. The registration cards printed by the state included that requirement.
But the EAC, which under federal law also distributes voter registration forms in the states, refused to include the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
In a complex ruling last year, the Supreme Court said states had to accept the federal forms — but also left open the chance for states to go back to the EAC and demand that it include proof of citizenship on forms distributed within their borders.
The EAC refused, and the states sued, leading to Judge Melgren’s ruling last week.
A number of civil rights groups in both states joined in Friday’s appeal, which was filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Kobach said the appeal will have a tough time.
“The judge’s opinion is a very careful one that follows the Supreme Court’s precedents,” he said.