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US Supreme Court asked to rule on Kobach's signature Kansas voter registration law

Jonathan Shorman and Bryan Lowry, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a state law championed by former secretary of state Kris Kobach -- struck down by lower courts -- that requires residents to prove their citizenship when registering to vote.

The request, announced Tuesday morning by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, sets up a potentially historic showdown over voting rights if the court takes the case, with the justices possibly deciding how far states can go in imposing requirements on would-be voters.

The case could hang over an election season in which the pandemic has elevated concerns over voting rights. In Kansas, it would draw fresh attention to Kobach's attempts to defend the law -- and accompanying courtroom losses -- as he runs in the Republican race for U.S. Senate.

Supreme Court review would mark the culmination of a yearslong legal battle over the law, which the Kansas Legislature passed in 2011 at Kobach's urging. Kobach, then the secretary of state, went on to personally defend the law during a federal civil trial in 2018 before Schmidt took over the case.

The law required prospective voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other the documents proving their citizenship before they could become registered to vote. The requirement caused thousands of Kansas voters to go into a suspended registration status before the law was struck down in 2018.

In announcing the appeal, Schmidt said he had found "a reasonable basis for appeal" after consulting with the current secretary of state, Scott Schwab.

 

"Voting is only for citizens, and this Kansas law is designed to confirm the citizenship of those registering to vote," Schmidt said in a statement, adding that "as long as the Legislature and the Governor leave this law on the books, we remain committed to giving it a full and robust legal defense."

Past attempts to repeal the law have stalled. Gov. Laura Kelly, who voted for the bill as a state legislator but now opposes it, would likely sign legislation eliminating the requirement and had called on Schmidt and Schwab to not appeal.

Dale Ho, lead attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in the case, said he was confident that the plaintiffs would prevail at the Supreme Court -- as they had at the district court and appeals level.

"It stopped more than 30,000 Kansans from exercising their right to vote. Kansas' law has been found to violate federal law multiple times, as well as the United States Constitution," Ho said.

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