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On April 18, federal district Judge Julie Robinson ruled Secretary of State Kris Kobach in contempt of court.  The decision came under Fish v. Kobach, the trial that concluded last month concerning a requirement to provide documentary proof of citizenship (DPOC) when registering to vote for the first time in Kansas.

Judge Robinson, a Gorge W. Bush appointee, found that Secretary Kobach failed to fully comply with the preliminary injunction that required Kobach to fully register all the individuals who were on a canceled or suspense list because of a failure to provide DPOC.  Under threat of a previous contempt of court hearing, Kobach fully registered those individuals, but Robinson found that he failed to communicate these changes adequately.

Kobach failed to send the postcards confirming a completed registration to those covered under the injunction.

“Kansans have come to expect these postcards to confirm their registration status,” said Robinson. “He admitted several times during the hearing that he understood the Court’s order meant he was to treat those covered by the preliminary injunction the same as all other registered voters, which included sending the standard postcard upon registration,” Robinson wrote emphasizing that Kobach had understood the necessity of sending these postcards.

Also, at issue was Kobach’s failure to update the County Election Manual, which Robinson called “the policy and training Bible for the 105 county election officials.”  Publicly available online, this manual outlined the DPOC requirement but failed to take notice of the preliminary injunction which blocked the DPOC requirement. Kobach attempted to resolve the issue by simply removing the manual from their website. Robinson, however, found this solution inadequate, writing, “taking the manual offline, almost two years later, means that counties’ only resource is the written, unmodified manual.”

Taking note of Kobach’s attempt to shift blame from himself, Robinson wrote, “the Court is troubled by Defendant’s (Kobach’s) failure to take responsibility for violating the Court’s order and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the Court had been accomplished.” “Instead, Defendant deflected blame for his failure to comply with county officials, and onto his own staff,” wrote Robinson.

Robinson concluded that Kobach, “disobeyed this Court’s preliminary injunction order when he failed to ensure that voter registration applicants covered by the preliminary injunction order became fully registered, a process that required accurate and consistent information be provided to county election officials, individuals impacted by the preliminary injunction, and the public.”

The ruling required the Defendant’s to pay the opposing legal fees associated with the contempt motion but deferred any other remedies to its post-trial findings.

We still await a decision in Fish v. Kobach, which Judge Robinson indicated would most likely come before the primaries on August 7, this year. Noting the role of her contempt decision Robinson wrote Kobach’s “history of noncompliance and disrespect for the Court’s decision in this case as set forth above signals that specific, verifiable directives will be necessary if a permeant injunction is warranted by the Court’s ultimate decision in this case.”

Zachary Mueller

Author Zachary Mueller

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