A federal judge sounded skeptical Monday about a request from voting and civil rights’ groups to block a federal official’s decision to embrace requirements in three states that new voters submit proof that they’re U.S. citizens. During a 90-minute hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon repeatedly asked about past and upcoming registration deadlines in Alabama, Georgia and Kansas, suggested that the parties who brought suit earlier this month may have acted too slowly and seemed focused on the fact that only a small percentage of voters register in any given year. While the judge said he would not rule until Tuesday on the temporary restraining order requested by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and voter registration organization Project Vote, the thrust of his questions to several lawyers hinted that he was inclined against granting the order.
The attorney arguing for the voter and civil rights groups, Michael Keats, pulled no punches in his presentation arguing that federal Election Assistance Commission executive director Brian Newby exceeded his authority and acted arbitrarily when he granted requests from the three states to change a federal motor voter form’s instructions to include those states’ demands for proof of citizenship at the time of registration.
“This is a mockery rulemaking,” Keats told Leon. “This is not Russia. This is not Nazi Germany. We provide reasons. We explain our decisions…..We don’t do this is in this country….This is not how it works.”
Keats, a partner with New York law firm Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, said the decision was disrupting voter registration efforts in several states. “The confusion this is causing, the chilling effect this is causing, is real,” he said. “We’re really talking about having people run a gauntlet that Congress wanted people to avoid.”