Kansas voter proof of citizenship law shut down

For the past five years, the state of Kansas has been engaged in an ongoing battle over voter identification laws which require prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering. This could take the form of documents such as a birth certificate, a passport or naturalization documents in the case of legal immigrants. Those laws were challenged and put on hold following lower court rulings. Now a U.S. District Judge has struck down the law entirely, saying that the state failed to prove that the requirements were needed to prevent ineligible individuals from voting. (Washington Times)

A federal judge has ruled Kansas cannot require proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote, a setback for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in a case with national implications for voting rights.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson sided with voters Monday that Kansas cannot require people who register to vote to provide documents such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers. The decision in a couple of consolidated cases makes permanent earlier temporary rulings.

The judge said the Kansas requirement violates the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On the surface, the ruling doesn’t appear to make much sense. You must be a citizen in order to vote so it would seem that proving citizenship should be a reasonable request and not be in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment. But the judge didn’t see it that way, so it’s back to the drawing board for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Of course, there may have been a bit more animous toward Kobach (who is currently running for governor) than was really necessary on the part of the judge. As Fox News reports, in addition to striking down the law, the judge ordered Kobach to undergo refresher legal training before he can renew his law license.

In an extraordinary rebuke, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson also ordered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to complete an additional six hours of legal education on top of other requirements before he can renew his law license for the upcoming year. She imposed the sanction for his numerous disclosure violations.

This supposedly wasn’t a reprimand for supporting the law Kobach was defending, but rather for procedural violations during the appeal. While it’s probably within the judge’s power to issue such an order, it was obviously a personal swat at the Secretary of State which will be embarrassing fodder for his opponents in the upcoming election. But Judge Robinson is a Bush 43 appointee with deep roots in the region, so it’s tough to immediately throw the bias flag on this one.

The state is going to appeal this decision, but given the recent trend of decisions at the Supreme Court on such questions (where they duck them more often than not), it’s unclear if the law will have any juice left at this point. Other states have successfully implemented voter ID laws, but this one may have been a bridge too far.