Kansas agrees to $1.9M settlement for defending Kobach’s baseless voter fraud claims

By: - September 10, 2021 5:57 pm
Kris Kobach appears for a recording of Kansas Reflector's podcast on July 20. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kris Kobach appears for a recording of Kansas Reflector’s podcast. A federal judge ruled his signature law, which required new voters to provide a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, unconstitutional in 2018. (July 20, 2020, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Attorney General’s Office has agreed to pay the American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys $1.9 million in fees and expenses for a five-year legal battle over an unconstitutional restriction on voter registrations.

The high-profile lawsuit was filed 2016 in response to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s signature law, which required residents to prove their citizenship before registering to vote. The law blocked more than 35,000 eligible voters from participating in elections.

U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson held Kobach in contempt of court following his embarrassing performance in a 2018 trial. The judge determined there was no evidence to support Kobach’s claims of widespread voter fraud and ruled the law unconstitutional.

“The fees in this case are a reflection of the incompetence and intransigence of former Kansas Secretary of State Kobach, who unnecessarily prolonged this litigation, and was sanctioned repeatedly for bad behavior,” the ACLU said in a statement. “That the state of Kansas is on the hook for the costs of this litigation is an unfortunate consequence of Kobach’s desire to fight for his unconstitutional law.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab prolonged the legal fight, and extended its costs, by appealing Robinson’s ruling. The state lost the appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The parties filed a joint motion Friday in U.S. District Court in which the state agrees to pay $1.9 million within 30 days of Robinson’s approval of the settlement. The amount is about half the initial figure requested by the ACLU and attorneys involved in a joint case.

The ACLU said it agreed to resolve the fee dispute so it could turn attention to “current and future battles.”

“Settlements always represent a compromise, and although we feel that the state should be paying much more, this settlement represents an opportunity for the current state government to move past the errors of their predecessors,” the ACLU said in its statement.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.