A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a lower court’s decision that a Kansas voting law, crafted by conservative hardliner and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is unconstitutional and violates the National Voter Registration Act.
The law, which took effect in 2013, required anyone who registers to vote in the state to provide documentation of US citizenship such as a birth certificate or a passport.
The decision is the latest in a series of defeats for the legislation, which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, blocked more than 30,000 Kansans from registering to vote.
A federal district court had struck down the law after finding that it violated the Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act. The state then appealed to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
The three-judge panel on the appeals court wrote they were not persuaded by Kansas’ argument that there was a problem of noncitizens attempting to register to vote.
“In short, we conclude that the Secretary has failed to show that a substantial number of noncitizens successfully registered to vote,” they wrote.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the group was “gratified the court struck (the law) down.”
“(We) now call upon Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab to turn the page on Kris Kobach’s sorry legacy of voter suppression, drop any further appeals and work with us collaboratively in the interests of all Kansas voters,” Ho said.
Schwab, a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday that “our office is thoroughly reviewing the Court’s decision and will confer with the Attorney General on how to move forward.”
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, also agreed with the court’s decision.
“We are to be doing everything that we can to encourage voting,” she said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that “eliminating any barriers to voting is a good thing.”
Kelly suggested that the state drop any further appeals of the law but noted that the “decision is not up to me.”
The law has spent many years under judicial review. In April 2018, a federal judge found Kobach in contempt of court for failing to comply with court orders in a case challenging the voting law. Two years prior, the same judge had ruled Kansas could not require people to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote in certain circumstances.
Kobach, a strong backer of President Donald Trump and a current Kansas Senate candidate, has previously made unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. He stated that voter fraud had taken place in the 2016 election in New Hampshire, a claim that the fact checker PolitiFact rated false. Trump appointed Kobach to help lead a voter fraud commission, which disbanded in 2018.
Kobach also appears interested in presidential support in light of his Senate bid. In January, he got face time with Trump and consulted with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over a White House immigration plan. Kobach getting the President’s support is a scenario that has Republican leaders fearful that he could cost them a crucial Senate seat in Kansas and potentially their narrow majority.
“It’s likely that the Senate candidate who will do the best is the one who can best articulate Trump’s position and is most associated with Trump in his positions,” Kobach, who’s also an immigration firebrand, told CNN earlier this year. “And the person who best fits that bill would be me.”
CNN’s Clare Foran, Manu Raju, Alex Rogers and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.