A federal judge agreed Tuesday with the American Civil Liberties Union that a state court should decide a lawsuit challenging Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s enforcement of the state’s voter-citizenship rule. The lawsuit attacks a policy Kobach said he was considering to restrict Kansans who use a national voter-registration form to casting ballots only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races. The ACLU argued Kobach has no authority under Kansas law to impose the policy and it would violate voters’ right to equal legal protection under the state constitution. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Wichita returned the case to Shawnee County District Court, where it initially was filed in November on behalf of two voters and the gay-rights group Equality Kansas.
Kobach had asked Melgren to hear the case because the federal judge handled a separate lawsuit filed by Kansas and Arizona against the federal government. Melgren last month ordered federal officials to help the two states enforce their laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship.
Kobach said the two cases were inevitably linked. But Melgren ruled Tuesday that the ACLU’s lawsuit raised legal issues only involving Kansas law and the state constitution, making state court the proper venue. “We felt we were careful in drafting our papers,” said Doug Bonney, chief counsel for the ACLU of Kansas.