Update: This story was updated to reflect that a Kansas House-passed provision that would have forced Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s to pay personally for a contempt of court order was stripped in later budget negotiations.
A tussle between Kansas’ GOP-led House of Representatives and its Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach a over whether state money should pay for a penalty related to a contempt finding handed down by a federal judge last month was resolved Tuesday. Kansas lawmakers dropped their effort during budget negotiations Tuesday, the Wichita Eagle reported.
The Kansas House inserted a provision, offered by state Rep. Russ Jennings (R), in a budget bill that passed easily last week that would bar state funding for “any attorney fees, court costs or fines assessed against any statewide elected official who has been cited for contempt by a state or federal court.”
Kobach’s office pushed back, with letter from an attorney in Kobach’s office, Sue Becker, opposing the provision. The letter was obtained by The Witchita Eagle Monday.
The letter said the provision was illegal and would cause the state to spend even more money in trying to defend it. It argued that Kobach was being sued in his official capacity in the lawsuit from which the contempt proceedings arose, and therefore “any remedy ordered by the court (actions to be taken or fees to be paid) must be satisfied by the State itself.”
Kobach last month was ordered to pay the ACLU’s attorneys fees related to a contempt motion the ACLU filed in the Kansas proof-of-citizenship voter registration case. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson said that Kobach had disobeyed her directions stemming from her 2016 order temporarily blocking the proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement for the 2016 elections.
One, she found, he failed to have county election offices send out postcards to the voters affected by her 2016 order that confirmed their registration and informed them of their polling place. The judge also took issue with his refusal to update the election manual for local election officials, which was posted publicly online, to reflect her 2016 order blocking the requirement.
Becker, in her letter, played down the former point, arguing that the contempt order was “based on [Robinson’s] incorrect understanding that the Secretary of State’s office has the legal authority to compel the counties to act.”
She did not mention the manual, which was only taken offline in the weeks before the contempt hearing.
Becker said that the Secretary of State’s office would be appealing the contempt order to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Micah Kubic — the executive director of ACLU Kansas, one of the challengers in the case — told the Topeka Capital-Journal last week that Robinson had not said whether Kobach personally or his office should bear the financial burden for her contempt order.
Robinson did, however, knock Kobach for attempting to throw his staff under the bus throughout the contempt proceedings.
“Defendant deflected blame for his failure to comply onto county officials, and onto his own staff, some of whom are not licensed attorneys,” she said.