Fish v. Kobach challenges Kansas’ documentary proof-of-citizenship law which requires people, when they register to vote, to show documents to prove their citizenship. It violates the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law designed to make it easier for Americans to register to vote and maintain their registrations.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on February 18, 2016, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, and individual Kansans. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Kansas, and Dechert LLP. It sought a court order requiring the state to immediately register thousands of Kansans who had attempted to register to vote at a DMV office, but who were denied due to their supposed failure to comply with the state’s citizenship documentation requirements. In order to comply with the NRVA, states have to provide people with an opportunity to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's licenses at the DMV. Instead, Kansans were being told they must present additional citizenship paperwork in order to become registered — or they're not being informed at all, only to find out later that they've been suspended from voting. Between 2013-2016, the law blocked more than 17,000 Kansans from registering to vote through the DMV – and a total of more than 35,000 Kansans from registering to vote through any means.
In May 2016, the federal district court issued a preliminary ruling that blocked the law in time for the November 2016 election and for the duration of the litigation. Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, the law’s main champion, appealed and in October 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling blocking the law, holding that the law caused the “mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” Listen to the arguments here: https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/clerk/16-3147_1.mp3.
UPDATED FEBRUARY 2018: A trial before the federal district court seeking to make the court’s preliminary ruling in this case permanent is slated to begin on March 6. The ACLU will have the opportunity to show in open court how the documentary proof-of-citizenship law has blocked the voter registrations of more than 35,000 Kansans. The ACLU will also demonstrate at trial that Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is personally defending it in these proceedings, has not been able to produce evidence showing the law is necessary for the state to enforce its voter qualifications. Although the Tenth Circuit’s order blocking the Kansas law is in effect pending the outcome of the trial, the ACLU has had to file a motion charging Secretary Kobach with contempt for repeatedly refusing to comply with that and related orders. A federal court has already sanctioned Secretary Kobach for making “patently misleading representation to the court."
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District Court (D. Kan.)
Appeals Court (10th Cir.)