Federal judge orders Kris Kobach, Trump's go-to voter fraud hack, to learn the law

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach humiliated by a federal judge; proof of citizenship to vote overturned

By Matthew Rozsa

Published June 19, 2018 4:02PM (EDT)

Kris Kobach (Getty/Saul Loeb)
Kris Kobach (Getty/Saul Loeb)

President Donald Trump's go-to guy for voter suppression, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was just handed a major humiliation at the hands of a federal district court judge.

Federal District Judge Julie A. Robinson of Kansas completely rejected Kobach's voting restriction law in a ruling on Monday. Although Kobach justified his voting restrictions by claiming that voter fraud is rampant in the state, Robinson ruled that of the "small number of noncitizen registrations in Kansas, it is largely explained by administrative error, confusion, or mistake." In addition, in response to Kobach's argument that the fact that there were only a small number of noncitizens voting in Kansas was simply "the tip of the iceberg," Robinson wrote that "the Court draws the more obvious conclusion that there is no iceberg; only an icicle, largely created by confusion and administrative error."

Perhaps most scathing, however, was Robinson's determination that Kobach's conduct during the trial was so uninformed that he needed to take classes so as to inform himself about the law itself. From The New York Times.:

The judge also took Mr. Kobach to task for his conduct as a lawyer during the trial, saying that he violated rules “that are designed to prevent prejudice and surprise at trial.”

Mr. Kobach “chose to represent his own office in this matter, and as such, had a duty to familiarize himself with the governing rules of procedure, and to ensure as the lead attorney on this case that his discovery obligations were satisfied despite his many duties as a busy public servant,” Judge Robinson wrote.

On Monday, she ordered that Mr. Kobach be required to complete six hours of legal education. Those six hours “must pertain to federal or Kansas civil rules of procedure or evidence,” she wrote.

She also found that although the state has a valid interest in preventing voter fraud, Kobach had not provided evidence proving that "not strong enough to outweigh the tangible and quantifiable burden on eligible voter registration applicants in Kansas who were not registered to vote before January 1, 2013," according to NPR.

The law itself required people who wanted to vote in Kansas to prove that they were citizens using documents such as a passport, driver's license, birth certificate or naturalization papers. In the past, Kansas citizens were able to prove their citizenship by affirming their eligibility on their registration applications. While Kobach insisted that the increased measures were needed to stop voter fraud, Robinson found that he hadn't proved voter fraud had been a serious problem prior to the new restrictions and also deemed the new restrictions to violate the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which was at the forefront of the legal challenge to Kobach's law, lauded Robinson's decision.

"That law was based on a xenophobic lie that noncitizens are engaged in rampant election fraud. 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," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.

It is important to note that, while Kobach suffered a setback in court today, this hardly means his voter suppression crusade is down and out for the count. As Salon's own Heather Digby Parton noted earlier today:

Kobach is best known for writing the "show me your papers" law in Arizona that was also struck down in federal court. He also headed up the ill-fated Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was disbanded after many states balked at Kobach's demand that they turn over their confidential voter rolls to the federal government. He had very big plans.

Kobach is currently running for governor of Kansas, and the crusade to curtail immigration and voting rights will continue no matter how his checkered political career turns out. This is now a central organizing principle of the Republican Party.

Salon's Charlie May also covered how, last July, Kobach was fined for "misleading the Court" in cases pertaining to the restrictive Voter ID laws in his state:

A fine of $1,000 against the vice chair of President Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission was upheld this week by a U.S. district judge. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was cited for a "pattern" of "misleading the Court" in cases that dealt with increased voter-ID restrictions in the state.

Kobach, who serves as the Trump commission's vice chair, appealed a fine that was issued earlier this year "for making 'patently misleading representations' to a federal court about a binder he was photographed carrying into a meeting with Trump late last year," the Post reported. "As the defendant in a lawsuit over Kansas’ strict citizenship requirements for first-time voter registrants, Kobach had initially refused to produce that document in court, arguing that it did not contain 'relevant information' to the case," the Washington Post reported. The fine was upheld this week by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson who called Kobach's credibility into question.

"Robinson cites several other misleading statements Kobach made to the court in the ACLU case, regarding class-action certification and the court’s ruling on a prior procedural question," the Post reported. "Indeed, his assertion in this motion for review that his editing explanation was fairly raised before Judge O’Hara in the first instance is precipitously close to unsupportable," Robinson explained in her ruling. "While these examples do not form the basis for any sanctions award imposed by Judge O’Hara, they do demonstrate a pattern, which gives further credence to Judge O’Hara’s conclusion that a sanctions award is necessary to deter defense counsel in this case from misleading the Court about the facts and record in the future," Robinson continued.

The underlying issue with Kris Kobach is not that whether or not his voter suppression efforts are legal. It is the fact that, because Republicans like President Donald Trump and Kobach himself are worried about how minority voters will tilt elections against the GOP, they are doing their best to disenfranchise as many potential Democrats as possible. Judge Robinson may be using the law to stop Kobach in Kansas, but her efforts will not be enough nationwide.

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Kris Kobach Racism Voter Fraud Voter Id Laws