WASHINGTON, D.C. (USA Today)- State laws that make it tougher to register to vote or vote will provide a fresh test of the Supreme Court justices' political mettle.
The court agreed Monday to hear Arizona's appeal of a lower-court ruling that blocked the state from requiring proof of citizenship when registering by mail. The case, which could affect other states including Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee, likely will be heard in the winter and decided in the spring.
More urgent is the court's imminent decision whether to hear Ohio's appeal of lower-court rulings that blocked the state from closing early voting centers three days before the election, while allowing military and overseas voters continued access. President Obama's campaign is opposing the state's case.
Whether the court acts before the election, as in Ohio's case, or after, as in Arizona's, the cases place the court squarely back in the political maelstrom, recalling its verdict in 2000's Bush v. Gore case that handed the presidency to George W. Bush.
"It's been a long time since there has been such a convergence of cases involving voting," says Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation.
Says Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law: "There's a risk to the court's reputation in getting involved in these cases."
Arizona is seeking to implement a 2004 voter referendum that called for proof of citizenship with federal registration forms. The high court ruled in 2006 that a lower court couldn't stop the law from taking effect.
Since then, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state could not get around the requirements of the 1993 "motor voter" law, which made it easier to register.
"For people who don't have proof of citizenship in Arizona, this is significant," said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which has fought Arizona in court.
The court is on the verge of deciding whether to consider Ohio's appeal on early voting - a decision that could affect the presidential race in one of the most heavily contested states.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ending early voting Friday before the election would "burden the fundamental right to vote." In 2008, tens of thousands of Ohioans cast early ballots in the final three days; blacks were far more likely to do so than whites. But the state notes that Ohio has 230 hours of early voting.
"A decision striking down a state law as facially unconstitutional on the eve of an election is the definition of an important case," said Secretary of State Jon Husted's appeal.
By Richard Wolf, USA Today