WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top lawmakers have urged a federal appeals court to overturn a decision by a judge in Kansas that they say would limit the authority of Congress to regulate federal elections and derail its ability to pass legislation protecting the right to vote.
Their friend-of-the-court filing last week at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes in the lawsuit filed byKansas and Arizona to force federal elections officials to help those states impose their proof-of-citizenship requirements on federal voter registration forms used by residents of the states.
Both states argue the requirements prevent voter fraud by thwarting voting by noncitizens. Critics of such laws view them as suppressing voter turnout. But both sides agree the potential impacts of the case could extend to other states.
“This case has great significance nationally,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday. “Many states are watching whether Kansas and Arizona will prevail in our efforts to require proof of citizenship when people register.”
The states contend the availability of a federal form — which requires only that people attest under penalty of perjury that they are citizens — creates a “massive loophole” in enforcing their voter proof-of-citizenship laws and maintaining the integrity of their elections.
Pelosi and seven other Democratic lawmakers argued in their June 3 court filing that the lower court’s ruling, if left standing, could derail Congress’ efforts to identify and remove unnecessary barriers to voting in federal elections. The lawmakers also contend the ruling calls into question the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
“For much of our nation’s history, state law was used to diminish or deny qualified citizens the right to vote,” the lawmakers wrote. “The Constitution was amended to correct this wrong and empower Congress to take appropriate steps to ensure that history does not repeat itself.”
Kansas and Arizona are seeking in their lawsuit to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change its federal voter registration form for those states to include special instructions requiring citizenship documentation. In March, U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren sided with them and ordered the commission to immediately modify its forms, but the 10th Circuit put that ruling on hold after the federal government appealed.
At issue is whether the federal government or states have ultimate authority to regulate voter registration. Each side contends the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution supports its position.
“This is a sovereign prerogative of the states that the Founding Fathers were careful to put into the Constitution,” Kobach said.
But Pelosi and the other lawmakers argued that through the amendment process the balance of power with respect to federal elections has shifted to Congress, enhancing its superior role each time the Constitution has been amended to expand the right to vote.
“The right to vote, expanded and protected by amendment, is today more a consequence of citizenship than a product of state law,” the lawmakers wrote.
Joining Pelosi in the court filing are House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, House Democratic Assistance Leader James Clyburn, along with the chair persons of the House Democratic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic caucus, the Asian Pacific American Caucus and the ranking member of the House Committee on House Administration.
Arizona enacted its proof-of-citizenship documentation requirement by voter initiative in 2004, and Alabama, Georgia and Kansas followed with similar laws.
An appeals panel will hear oral arguments Aug. 25.