On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Kobach v. United States Election Assistance Commission. The decision effectively upholds a November 2014 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that decided the EAC would not have to modify federal voter registration forms to comply with unnecessarily burdensome proof-of-citizenship requirements found in states like Kansas.
In the sense that it created a minor check on his quest for increased power and influence on national policies, the Supreme Court’s ruling today is a blow to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He is, after all, one of the country’s leading proponents of voter suppression measures. However, the ruling also props up a two-tiered voting system that limits the electoral power of thousands and, as The Nation‘s Ari Berman has observed, “recall[s] the days of segregation and the Supreme Court’s 1896 ‘separate but equal’ ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.”
It seems it cannot be said enough: Policies that Kobach and conservative lawmakers continue to support including proof of citizenship requirements and voter ID measures to counter virtually non-existent voter fraud deliberately suppress voter turnout and disproportionately affect poor and minority voters. Naturally, the nativist movement has lent its support to these efforts as part of a broader strategy to limit the political power of communities of color.
Previous rulings by the Supreme Court such as its 2013 decision to nullify essential protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act have emboldened lawmakers, as well.
Kobach first leveled his legal challenge against the EAC in August 2013. While the case was still moving through the courts, thousands of Kansas residents saw their voter eligibility status placed “in suspense” because they had not provided Kobach’s office with proof of citizenship pursuant to legislation he pushed through the Kansas legislature. To address this issue while Kobach was suing the EAC to comply with his state’s new requirements, Kobach created a two-tiered system in which “in suspense” voters could only cast ballots in federal elections.
In March, The Wichita Eagle reported that “about 25,000 prospective voters are on the suspense list.”
In other words, Kobach prevented many thousands of voters from voicing their likely opposition to him and his allies throughout Kansas’ state government at the ballot box.
While Monday’s decision by the court is welcomed by many for not entirely excluding Kansas’ “in suspense” voters from the democratic process at the federal level (as Kobach hoped for), it does not go far enough. All politics is local, as the saying goes. And the nation’s highest court has tacitly approved Kobach’s policies which prohibit residents from entering those local arenas of democracy.
Kobach and others may claim they are valiantly working to maintain integrity within our electoral process, but we must identify these efforts for what they truly are: blatant acts of political self-preservation which come at the expense of citizens’ democratic rights.