Judge pressed for ruling in election law case

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A Shawnee County judge is being pressed about how quickly she will decide on whether to block a state law making it illegal for anyone to falsely give the appearance of acting as an election official.

Twice in the last month, lawyers for civic groups challenging parts of new election laws asked Judge Teresa Watson when she will rule on a request to temporarily block a section of the statute making it illegal to falsely represent an election official.

They have asked the judge to stop a provision of the law that makes it illegal  to knowingly “give the appearance of being an election official.”

The law also makes it illegal to knowingly engage in conduct that would “cause another person to believe a person engaging in such conduct is an election official.”

The lawsuit says the bill’s broad language “gives arbitrary discretion” in determining what constitutes conduct that may appear to be an election official.

The lawsuit – separate from similar litigation in federal court –  was filed at the beginning of June and the request for the temporary injunction was filed June 18.

By July 13, the briefing on the request for the injunction had been completed and the parties in the case and had agreed to waive oral arguments for the sake of expediency, records filed in the case show.

The attorney for the civic groups, Pedro Irigonegaray, sent a letter to Watson on Monday emphasizing the importance of getting a decision on the request for a temporary injunction blocking the law.

Irigonegaray said the law is preventing his clients, which include Loud Light, the League of Women Voters and Kansas Appleseed, from carrying out efforts to register voters as the general election approaches.

Loud Light and the League of Women Voters have already shut down their voter registration efforts out of fear they could be prosecuted under the broad provisions of the law.

Kansas Appleseed officials, meanwhile, made adjustments to their voter outreach efforts because of its fear that the law will be used against them.

“This harm will only be compounded by the swiftly approaching fall elections,”  Irigonegaray wrote in a letter to Watson this week.

The attorney representing the state, Bradley Schlozman, argued that the plaintiffs aren’t suffering any harm without immediate judicial action.

“The ‘harm’ and the ‘serious concerns’ plaintiffs allege here are entirely manufactured and in no way implicated by the statute,” Schlozman argued in a letter sent to the judge only hours after Irigonegaray sent his inquiry.

“There is simply no legitimate threat of any harm to plaintiff’s constitutional rights in this case,” he wrote the judge.

“Plaintiffs’ apparent decision to refrain from engaging in certain activities that they subjectively believe – without foundation – will lead to enforcement actions against them provides no grounds for affording them relief,” he wrote.

At one point in mid-August, Watson responded to the plaintiff’s inquiry about when a decision would be made.

She noted that the original lawsuit had been amended on Aug. 3 and asked both sides to explain how the new filing affected the request for the injunction.

However in his Monday letter to the judge, Irigonegaray said the parties on both sides agreed the amended complaint didn’t changed the complexion of the case.

The lawsuit was brought by four groups: the League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center.