Last June, The New York Times described Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as one of the most fearsome Republicans in the country. His attempts to crack down on fictional voter fraud problem in Kansas, and his appointment as Chairman of Donald Trump’s Commission for Electoral Integrity made him a force to be reckoned with in national politics.
However, like most people affiliated with the president, he has fallen spectacularly by his own idiotic errors of judgment. Yesterday US District Court Judge Julie Robinson ruled against him and his proof of citizenship law which requires Kansans to show proof of US citizenship when they vote. This is a major blow for Kobach, who is not only running for governor of Kansas in the Republican primary but finds himself facing another ACLU lawsuit (his fifth) over his controversial Crosscheck program.
This case, Fish v. Kobach, was originally filed in 2016 by the ACLU, who argued that Kobach’s actions violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, a.k.a. the “Motor Voter” act because it allowed people applying for drivers licenses to register. According to the ACLU’s website:
“States have to provide people with an opportunity to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses at the DMV. Instead, Kansans are being told they must present additional citizenship paperwork in order to become registered — or they’re not being informed at all, only to find out later that they’ve been suspended from voting. As a result, more than 30,000 potential voters have been blocked from voting.”
Kobach, who has turned down working directly for the Trump Administration to stay in Kansas, holds white nationalist views that would make Stephen Miller proud. At Harvard, he wrote his undergrad thesis on why the US was wrong to divest from South Africa to protest apartheid. At Yale Law School, he focused on immigration law because as he said, “a state has the right to restrict its welfare benefits only to those people who are US citizens or are visiting the state legally.” He has argued against immigrants in Arizona court, written for Breitbart that immigrants are responsible for more crimes than US citizens, and even expressed belief in the birther conspiracy.
Since becoming Kansas’s Secretary of State in 2011, Kobach has made it one of the hardest states in which to vote. The proof of citizenship law, passed that same year and enacted in 2013, blocked 31,000 people from voting, including 16,000 who attempted to register to vote and were turned away. In 2016, the court temporarily blocked the law and ordered him to inform voters via postcard that those who couldn’t register no longer needed proof of citizenship to do so. He refused to obey and was found in contempt of court last April for this action.
The ACLU’s Worst Nightmare?
Kobach likes to call himself “The ACLU’s worst nightmare” due to all their lawsuits against him, but every time he’s been to court he’s lost, largely because he can’t argue in favor of his laws without making vague pronouncements that have no proof. While in court, he cited 129 instances from 1999 onward of registering or attempting to register to vote, claiming that experts told him this was “the tip of the iceberg” and that thousands more had done the same thing. He might have gotten away with this on Fox and Friends, but the court had no time for it, as Judge Robinson had to prevent him and his witnesses from testifying from documents that were not “in evidence.” Robinson wrote in her opinion:
“The defendant insists that these numbers are just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ This trial was his opportunity to produce credible evidence of that iceberg, but he failed to do so…Instead, the Court draws the more obvious conclusion that there is no iceberg; only an icicle, largely created by confusion and administrative error.”
The rest of Judge Robinson’s opinion, which does not mince words, tears Kobach’s arguments apart and rejects his law, which she argues:
“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, it erodes confidence in the electoral system.”
However, Judge Robinson decided that depriving Kris Kobach of his signature law wasn’t enough of a punishment. For his failure to understand the most basic of court procedures, she ordered him to attend six hours of continuing legal education with regards to Kansas law. Kris Kobach, a Harvard-and-Yale educated lawyer, is going back to school.
In a week filled with horrendous news, it’s hard not to smile at this and be reminded that no matter how fearsome many of these Republicans may seem, it’s not difficult to hoist them on their own petard. The truth, to quote William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, is that these are not very bright guys.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.