Federal Judge Thinks Kris Kobach Is An Asshole Too
Let's play 'Fun With Cropping'!
In a trial that could finally toss out one of the ridiculous restrictions on voting pushed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, is hearing a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union against Kansas's 2013 law requiring that people provide proof of citizenship -- a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers -- just to register to vote in the state. (Kansas is one of just two states requiring that level of identification to register.) Because of previous lawsuits, the law has never gone into full effect; instead, since they found the law violated the federal National Voter Registration Act (better known as the "Motor Voter" law), Kansas lets people who register with just a driver's license or other ID vote in federal elections, but bars them from voting in state and local elections.
Kobach, who's running for governor, is arguing the case himself, to save taxpayer money, he says -- and also to demonstrate to his wingnut base that he's dead set against the wrong people voting. The ACLU is representing the League of Women Voters and several Kansans blocked from registering under the law. This week's bench trial before US District Court Judge Julie Robinson will settle the constitutionality of the whole mess -- at least until its outcome is inevitably appealed to the Supreme Court.
For Kobach and his dumb voter-suppressing law to prevail, the ACLU explains,
Kobach must prove that 1) there are a substantial number of noncitizens registering to vote in Kansas and 2) that nothing less burdensome than the DPOC [documentary proof-of-citizenship -- ed] requirements would suffice to fix the problem.
And just how serious is the problem of noncitizens voting in Kansas? Kobach's own witnesses, Kansas Director of Elections Brian Caskey and Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, have already testified that out of 1.8 million voters registered in Kansas since 2000, 127 individuals they think weren't citizens have either registered or “attempted” to register to vote. Forty-three of the 127 appear to have successfully registered. Out of those 43, 11 appear to have cast actual ballots. Eleven. Probably not any elections turned on those eleven votes.
But on the bright side, tens of thousands of people were prevented from registering, so that's a job well done! As ACLU attorney Dale Ho said in his opening statement Tuesday, "Enforcing this law is like taking a bazooka to a fly. The collateral damage is thousands." Yeah, but that fly was fucken obliterated , man.
One expert witness for the ACLU, Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, testified that by March of 2016, over 30,000 people had been prevented from voting. The ACLU argues that the law has had a disproportionate effect on younger voters and people without a party affiliation, and that being blocked from voting a first time is likely to discourage voters from trying again, even though they're eligible citizens.
So far, some of the behavior from lawyers working with Kobach's side has been downright weird. One of the plaintiffs, University of Kansas student Parker Bednasek, testified that, yes, he did indeed try to register without proof of citizenship because he thought the law was unjust and he was working with the ACLU to test its legality. Under questioning from his own lawyer, Mark Johnson, Bednasek said he'd followed instructions from the ACLU and the Kansas Democratic Party when he went to register without a birth certificate, because legal challenge. Bednasek also said he had previously lived in Oklahoma and Texas before attending KU, and -- we guess to prove he's no scruffy commie -- said he's been accepted into the Navy's officer candidate school pending his graduation from KU this year.
Things got stupid when Team Kobach tried to cross-examine Bednasek, as reported by the Topeka Capitol-Journal:
When Garrett Roe, a deputy in Kobach’s office, tried to ask Bednasek about the consequences of not providing proof of citizenship, U.S District Judge Julie Robinson halted questioning to explain how evidence rules work, which she previously explained Tuesday to Kobach’s chief legal counsel, Sue Becker.
Robinson advised Roe to show Bednasek a transcript of earlier testimony before asking questions about it. After following her directions, Roe asked the judge what he should do next.
“Just ask him now,” Robinson said, “didn’t you testify to X, Y and Z?”
The judge then sustained an objection from Johnson when Roe asked Bednasek how he could be considered a Kansas resident when he never obtained a Kansas driver’s license and his vehicle remains registered in Texas.
Yup. Secretary of State's attorney needs the judge to tell him how to introduce evidence, and then has to be reminded that the whole line of questioning is pointless since it's already established the kid is a resident who's eligible to vote:
As Robinson told attorneys she already ruled Bednasek is qualified to vote in Kansas, Becker interrupted to say she had spotted Bednasek looking to his attorney before answering questions.
“I feel like the counsel is coaching his witness,” Becker said.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Johnson said.
Robinson: “I don’t know why he would need to be coached on where his car is registered.”
Why, yes, the gentleman appears to be missing the point.
Also Wednesday, ACLU attorney Angela Liu had some questions for Tabitha Lehman, who had reported the names of two non-citizens given voter registration forms when they went to the Department of Motor Vehicles:
Lehman called their registrations “dicey” but agreed when Liu asked if these reported cases of possible fraud were actually DMV mistakes and not examples of someone trying to cheat the system.
A spreadsheet Lehman compiled with information about 38 people was called into question because Kobach failed to provide underlying documents to Johnson and ACLU attorneys. Robinson rejected the evidence pending further review.
Further, Kobach tried -- badly -- to undermine some of the witnesses; he tried to ask one witness if a "camera crew" had followed him from his unsuccessful attempt to register to vote; the ACLU lawyer objected and Robinson sustained the objection. Kobach claimed the question "goes to bias and motive to exaggerate," but she didn't buy it. Later, Kobach argued that McDonald, the expert witness, was biased because he'd said unkind things about Kobach on Twitter, such as a tweet that quoted an aide to Mike Pence who'd called Kobach "a shit sandwich":
McDonald said he didn’t have any bias against Kobach. “They’re tough, but they’re tweets,” McDonald said.
Also, Kris Kobach is, very objectively, a shit sandwich. Truth is always a defense.
Yr Wonkette will keep you updated on the trial as it proceeds; in the meantime Kansans might want to ponder this question: If these dipshits are this bad at lawyering, is there any reason to think they're protecting anyone's right to vote? Haha, silly question: They're protecting Republican voters, and that's good enough.