Federal court sends states’ “proof of citizenship” requirement back to EAC for reconsideration

In an underdiscussed opinion from last week, Judge Richard J. Leon in the District Court of the District of Columbia issued a decision in League of Women Voters v. Harrington (once League of Women Voters v. Newby). This longstanding dispute traces back to 2016, when then-Director Brian Newby approved Kansas’s, Georgia’s, and Alabama’s requests to modify the “Federal Form” for voter registration to include proof of citizenship instructions for their states. (The legacy of this dispute also goes back to Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., a Supreme Court decision back in 2013, on the EAC’s authority and proof-of-citizenship on the Federal Form.)

The court found that under the Administrative Procedure Act, Newby’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.” The National Voter Registration Act requires that the instructions on the Federal Form are “necessary to enable [States] to assess the eligibility of [] applicant[s] and to administer voter registration and other parts of the election process.” The court found that Newby was “mistaken” in believing that he was not required to consider the “necessity” of the changes. Without any belief he needed to consider the matter, he acted improperly. There’s some detail discussion about some of the constitutional issues at play (what I described back in 2014 as the “play in the joints” of the Election Clauses), but it’s a short and readable opinion.

There are a series of Tenth Circuit cases on Kansas’s saga after Inter Tribal on this matter. But the case is now sent back to the EAC (five years after the original decision) to consider Georgia’s and Alabama’s requests pursuant to the NVRA (to the extent they continue to seek state-specific instructions).

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