KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) — A federal judge Wednesday found Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in contempt of court for disobeying a 2016 court order on the state’s voter ID law, and spared no words in blistering Kobach and his staff.
Chief U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered Kobach to send postcards to voters who registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles without proof of citizenship documents, informing them that they were registered to vote due to an injunction that suspended the state’s voter ID law while the case made its way through the court.
The contempt of court charge was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims Kobach’s failure to comply may have prevented up to 35,000 Kansans from voting in the 2016 elections.
Judge Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, chided Kobach for not only failing to comply with the order, but for his “failure to take responsibility” for it.
“He apparently took no steps to personally ensure compliance with this directive, despite his status as chief election official for the State of Kansas,” Robinson wrote in a 25-page ruling. “Instead, defendant [Kobach] deflected blame for his failure to comply onto county officials, and onto his own staff, some of whom are not licensed attorneys.”
During the hearing in March, Kobach blamed county election offices for not sending out notices. That excuse didn’t fly with Robinson.
“The letters from plaintiffs seeking compliance with these issues were directed to defendant,” Robinson wrote. “The motion for contempt was directed to defendant. It was defendant’s duty to ensure that the counties complied with the court’s orders, a duty this court made crystal clear to him back on October 5, 2016. As such, defendant and not his staff, should bear the burden of sanctions for the lengthy delay in compliance.”
Before the voter ID case went to trial in March, Kobach and his office said they did not need to send the postcards. Bryan Caskey, director of elections for Kobach’s office, testified in March that he “remembered” a few days before the contempt hearing that he spoke to county election officials with updated instructions.
Judge Robinson said she doesn’t believe Caskey.
“First and foremost, the court does not find Mr. Caskey’s testimony to be credible,” Robinson wrote. “It strains credulity to believe that Mr. Caskey, after months of denying that the court’s orders required him to send standard postcards to covered registrants, remembered a few days before the show cause hearing that he had in fact orally instructed the counties to send them.”
Kobach also claimed that his office didn’t have enough time to carry out the order, an argument Robinson called “disingenuous.”
While Robinson declined to levy sanctions against Kobach, she ordered him to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees for litigating the motion.
Kobach’s office said it will appeal.
President Donald Trump appointed Kobach vice chairman of his Commission on Election Integrity, created to investigate the prevalence of voting fraud, but widely denounced as an attempt to deter legal voting. Trump dissolved the commission in January this year, before it held its first official meeting.