News & Politics

Federal Judge Refuses to Block Citizenship Checks in Three States

A federal  judge on Wednesday refused to grant a preliminary injunction sought by a coalition of voting rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in litigation over voter-citizenship checks.

At issue was a requirement in Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia that individuals registering to vote must provide proof of citizenship. The League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the Obama Justice Department had sued Brian Newby, the U.S. elections official who changed the proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal registration form at the request of the three states.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling allows Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to demand that their residents submit proof of citizenship before signing up to vote even if they’re using the federal government’s registration forms.

The voting rights groups and the Obama administration had tried to halt the practice, arguing that federal law doesn’t require an extensive citizenship check when people register to vote, and saying the three states were imposing an extra burden on voters.

Via the Washington Times:

But Judge Richard J. Leon said that while it may be an inconvenience to require proof of citizenship, and voter registration drives may have to do more work to get folks signed up, it’s not an insurmountable burden — and certainly less so than trying to explain Obamacare.

“The organizational plaintiffs and their members will undoubtedly have to expend some additional time and effort to help individuals,” Judge Leon wrote. “But let’s be candid: doing so pales in comparison to explaining to the average citizen how the [Affordable Care Act] or tax code works!”

Since the voter groups didn’t show a real and irreparable harm, he rejected their request for a preliminary injunction.
The ruling is the latest in a years-long struggle by some states to combat potential voter fraud by insisting voters prove they are citizens. In one Kansas count alone, officials count 25 instances of non-citizens attempting to register to vote.

Leon chastised the plaintiffs for going far beyond what is normally asked for in preliminary injunctions.

They asked the court to “void and vacate” the EAC actions and “reverse the changes to the Federal Form and withdraw [the] letters granting the States’ requests.” As Leon said, “these demands are dramatized all the more by the fact the United States Department of Justice has somehow decided to consent to such remarkable relief! To say the least, this is not the stuff of a typical preliminary injunction; indeed, it is, in effect, a thinly veiled request for the relief normally accorded in a final judgment.”

According to Leon, “Prudence, alone, therefore dictates against granting such comprehensive relief masquerading as a preliminary injunction.” Leon then cites the Supreme Court’s recognition that the authority under the Constitution granted to the states “to establish voting requirements is of little value without the power to enforce those requirements.” Leon concluded his opinion with quite a stab at the Justice Department’s misbehavior in this case: “But, in the final analysis, what lies at the heart of this case are the scope of the authority and legality of the actions of an independent federal agency that is represented here by Executive Branch counsel who, for the most part, decline to defend it.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Leon’s decision was “exactly correct.”

“Kansas’s proof of citizenship requirement does not harm on the plaintiffs. It is a necessary requirement to ensure that only US citizens vote in Kansas,” Kobach said in an email.

The voting-rights groups said they are confident in their case, and they’d already begun to set up an appeal.

What Kobach said in April continues to apply: “The ACLU and the League of Woman Voter liberals have tried their hardest — they’ve been launching lawsuit after lawsuit to stop us and so far they’ve failed, and hopefully they’ll continue to fail.”