Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach suffered a stinging defeat and rebuke yesterday at the hands of Federal Judge Julie Robinson. Ruling on a case brought by the ACLU in March, Robinson’s verdict not only means that Kobach loses in his attempt to defend Kansas’ draconian voter identification rules, but the judge also ordered him to attend additional education courses to improve his understanding of court procedures.
Kris Kobach loses his case
From her Topeka courtroom, Robinson ordered Kansas’ 2011 Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act struck down in an 118 page statement. It was not an unexpected decision.
The trial that had gone badly for the defence from the start. Much to the surprise of observers, Kobach decided to represent the Secretary of State’s office himself during trial hearings in March. Kobach’s defence effort floundered, and he suffered repeated criticism from Robinson for his frequent violations of evidence rules.
“That’s not how trials are conducted,” Robinson said at one point. Then after feeling required to explain basic evidentiary rules to Kobach’s team, she referred to her explanation as “Evidence 101.”
Adding to that indignity, Robinson has now thoroughly discredited the substance of Kobach’s arguments in her ruling as well, ordering a halt to Kansas’ requirement to show proof of citizenship before voting.
In her statement she concluded that the SAFE Act “disproportionately impacts duly qualified registration applicants, while only nominally preventing noncitizen voter registration.
“If eligible Kansans’ votes are not counted despite believing they are registered to vote,” she continued, “it erodes confidence in the electoral system.”
Robinson’s finding seems to have been largely influenced by Kobach’s inability to show any evidence of widespread abuse of the system by nonvoters. Kobach could only produce 11 actual instances of non-citizens voting in Kansas over a 17 year period. His justification for the scant evidence was a statistical argument. He contended that the few cases that had been discovered represented the “tip of the iceberg.”
But Robinson heaped scorn on the expert testimony by Old Dominion University professor Jesse Richman that was meant to prove the iceberg existed. Richman had concluded that 28.5% of Kansas’ 114,000 non-citizens were registered to vote, but based his conclusion on only 14 survey responses,
“This trial was his opportunity to produce credible evidence of that iceberg, but he failed to do so,” Robinson wrote. “The court will not rely on extrapolated numbers from tiny sample sizes and otherwise flawed data. Dr. Richman’s estimates were not only individually flawed and wildly varied, but his refusal to opine as to the best method of estimating the iceberg renders them all suspect.”
As a result, Robinson determined that the SAFE Act “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”
According to a statement from Kobach’s office, the Secretary of State hopes to appeal the decision: “Judge Robinson is the first judge in the country to come to the extreme conclusion that requiring a voter to prove his citizenship is unconstitutional. Her conclusion is incorrect, and it is inconsistent with precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Kobach loses credibility
Whether or not the ruling is appealed, Robinson’s verdict is problematic for Kobach, who is currently running for Governor of Kansas. Not only did he lose the case, but his personal legal abilities have been called into question. He was actually ordered to undergo additional legal training.
Citing his repeated violations of procedure, Robinson wrote:
“It is not clear to the Court whether Defendant repeatedly failed to meet his disclosure
obligations intentionally or due to his unfamiliarity with the federal rules. Therefore, the Court finds that an additional sanction is appropriate in the form of Continuing Legal Education.”
She then ordered Kobach to attend 6 hours of Continuing Legal Education beyond what he is required to undertake each year to maintain his law license.
The case had been brought by the ACLU, who are active in fighting what they deem to be voter suppression laws across the country. Defeating Kobach, one of the county’s most prominent champions of voter ID laws, counts as a major victory.
Reacting to the verdict, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said, “This decision is a stinging rebuke of Kris Kobach, and the centerpiece of his voter suppression efforts: a show-me-your-papers law that has disenfranchised tens of thousands of Kansans. That law was based on a xenophobic lie that noncitizens are engaged in rampant elections fraud.”
Meanwhile, Kobach faces a difficult 7-way Republican gubernatorial primary on August 7th, and his opponents include incumbent Jeff Colyer. In such a crowded field, the damage caused by such a public defeat could mean Kobach loses not just a court case, but an election as well.