UPDATED: Judge finds Kobach in contempt for not obeying court orders

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A federal judge on Wednesday afternoon held Secretary of State Kris Kobach in contempt of court for failing to follow her orders in a legal battle over the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements for would-be voters.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found that the Republican gubernatorial candidate failed to comply with court orders requiring him to notify voters affected by a preliminary decision that blocked the citizenship requirements for anyone registering to vote at a motor-vehicle office. 

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson

(You can find Judge Robinson’s  contempt ruling here)

Kobach had been ordered to register all otherwise eligible motor-voter registration applicants who had their registrations held up because they didn’t provide their proof of citizenship. 

He was directed to notify all voters impacted by the court’s preliminary injunction in 2016 that they would be “deemed registered and qualified to vote for the appropriate local, state, and federal elections for purposes of the Nov. 8, 2016 general election.”

Writing that Kobach had history of “noncompliance and disrespect” for the court’s decisions in the case, Robinson ordered Kobach to pay attorneys fees, an amount that will be settled at a later date.

“The court is troubled by defendant’s failure to take responsibility for violating this court’s orders, and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the court had been accomplished,” Robinson wrote in a 25-page opinion wrote release a little after 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Kobach declined comment through a spokesman. The spokesman said he would appeal.

Robinson, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, found that Kobach had established a pattern of ignoring the court’s rulings throughout the case.

“Defendant has a history of noncompliance with the preliminary injunction order,” she wrote. “He not only willfully failed to comply with the preliminary injunction for five months, but then only partially complied on Oct. 16 upon the threat of contempt.

“After that,” she added, “defendant failed to ensure that registered voters received the standard notification of disposition postcards, despite his assurance to this court…that they would be sent.”

The contempt order was the latest development in a two-year legal struggle over the state’s highly controversial law that requires prospective voters to show proof of citizenship when they register.

The law has led to thousands of voter registrations being set aside until prospective voters provided the required documentation such as a Social Security card or a passport.

In 2016, the ACLU challenged the law on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Kansas and several individual Kansas voters.

The ACLU contended that the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement violated the national motor-voter law, which was intended to make it easier for people to register to vote.

The civil liberties group asked the court to force the state to immediately register any Kansan who tried to register at the motor-vehicle office but was denied because they didn’t meet the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements.

The ACLU says the state’s citizenship mandate stopped more than 17,000 Kansans from registering to vote at motor-vehicle offices and more than 35,000 statewide from 2013 to 2016.

Robinson still has to decide on the overall proof-of-citizenship case. However, she gave the plaintiffs until April 30 to submit an application for attorneys fees. 

The ACLU, which sought the contempt order, praised the judge’s ruling.

“Secretary Kobach demonstrated a long pattern of disregard for the court’s orders, and today the judge made clear that the rule of law prevails,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas. “Court orders apply to everyone, including the secretary of state, and should be observed.”

Kobach’s rivals in the GOP primary for Kansas governor largely remained mum Wednesday night.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declined to discuss the contempt order through a spokesman and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer did not respond to a request for a comment. Former state Sen. Jim Barnett of Emporia, issued a statement chastising the secretary of state. 

“The secretary’s performance in court was embarrassing and costly for the state,” Barnett said in a statement. “We cannot afford that kind of incompetence in the office of governor.” 

The contempt order may only stand to harden existing opinions about Kobach as he runs for govenor.

“I would say that if you are a hard core pro- or anti-Kobach voter, then this ruling probably doesn’t affect your opinion much,” said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller.

“Especially for his supporters, the substance of the case is something that they can interpret as him championing conservative causes,” Miller said. 

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, pounced soon after the judge’s order became public. Within hours of the order’s release, the party sent out a fundraising email blast.

“Kris Kobach’s costly voter suppression crusade is finally catching up with him,” said Ethan Corson, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party.

“Kobach’s steady string of self-promotional partisan maneuvers and costly taxpayer-funded lawsuits illustrate his overwhelming unfitness to be the next governor of Kansas.”