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The long-running, on-again-off-again battle over Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law for voter registration took another turn yesterday, as a federal court once again struck down the law and imposed strict orders on the Secretary of State to comply with the ruling. The Lawrence Journal-World has more:
A federal judge on Monday struck down a Kansas law that requires new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register, saying it violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires states to provide equal protection under the law…
Kansas passed the proof of citizenship requirement in 2011, at Kobach’s urging. It took effect in 2013 and was in place during the 2014 elections. But it was largely set aside during the 2016 election cycle after Robinson issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of it against people who signed up to vote when they renewed their driver’s licenses.
Since then, tens of thousands of people attempting to register to vote have had their registrations blocked because of the law.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of one set of plaintiffs, arguing that it conflicted with provisions of the federal National Voter Registration Act, or “motor voter” law. That case was consolidated with one filed by an individual voter, Parker Bednasek, who argued that it was an unconstitutional interference with individuals’ right to vote.
Monday’s ruling sided with the plaintiffs in both cases. Robinson said both the law and state regulations implementing it “violate (section) 5 of the NVRA and infringe on the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The ruling was unusually specific about next steps (both for the state and Kobach personally) and reflected the testy nature of the trial, where the SoS and his staff represented themselves and were repeatedly admonished by the court for their handling of evidence and questioning of witnesses:
In a 118-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson also ordered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to attend at least six hours of continuing legal education courses focusing on civil rules of procedure and evidence, citing numerous violations of those rules when he represented the state during trial of the case in March…
She ordered Kobach’s office not to enforce the law against any voter registration applications in Kansas. And citing what she called Kobach’s “well-documented history of avoiding this Court’s Orders,” she spelled out specific steps the Secretary of State’s office must carry out to ensure that all voters are registered in the same way, regardless of whether they have shown proof of citizenship.
She concluded, using boldface type, in saying that Kobach “shall strictly comply” with the order.
Still, there’s little reason to believe the fight is over – or that the switch will stay off – given the SoS’ likely intention to appeal, which will undoubtedly continue the fierce war of words with plaintiffs:
Kobach, a Republican candidate for Kansas governor in 2018, did not immediately respond to the ruling, but he has indicated in the past that he would appeal an adverse decision. [Later in the day he indeed confirmed his intention to appeal.]
The ACLU issued a statement late Monday, calling the decision “a stinging rebuke of Kris Kobach, and the centerpiece of his voter suppression efforts.”
“That law was based on a xenophobic lie that noncitizens are engaged in rampant election fraud,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in the statement. “The court found that there is ‘no credible evidence’ for that falsehood, and correctly ruled that Kobach’s documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution.”
This is a significant ruling, not just for Kansas but also for the potential issues it raises – including balancing federal and state control over elections – that could eventually find their way back to the U.S. Supreme Court. For now, though, it’s a big win for plaintiffs and a vivid reminder of a key rule in litigation: win or lose, don’t irritate the judge. Stay tuned …