If there was any question whether the immigration debate is still raging in the heartland, it was probably settled the moment that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded the birth certificate of a 90-year-old World War II pilot. On a stiflingly humid September day in central Kansas, Kobach pushed through the courtroom door, head bowed, a storm cloud on his face. His ever-present red tie, front-swept hair and 2-inch sideburns framed an even jawline. He is a secretary of state here, a man who has authored some of the most stringent immigration legislation in the country — often traveling the nation to argue his own cases — and has cleared a viable path to the governor’s mansion. Behind a lectern facing the judge, an ACLU attorney finished her initial fusillade of oral arguments with a comment directed at Kobach. “He has to use such convoluted reasoning,” said Sophia Lin Larkin, representing a class of voters who the ACLU argued was being treated as second-class citizens in Kobach’s voting system. “This is simply another variation of his mistaken understanding in this case.” Kobach’s understanding of the voting-rights case is an extension of his philosophy on rights accorded to any American: They are conditional offers that only apply to those who can prove their citizenship.
Kobach then turned his attention to Melvin L. Brown, a plaintiff in the ACLU case, which accused Kobach of discriminating against voters who registered without showing proof of citizenship, part of a 2013 law he wrote.
A nonagenarian whose family first began to work the land in Kansas in 1850, Brown fought in World War II nearly a century later. When he registered to vote, he did not provide proof of his citizenship, making him one of 17,000 voters in Kansas who had been added to a “suspense list,” preventing them from voting in state and local elections until they could prove they are citizens.
Kobach said he was waiting to see anything from Brown and his wife, JoAnn, to establish that they even had standing to sue the state. “We don’t actually have any evidence before the court. Do they have the birth certificates in their possession?” Kobach asked. “Just because he fought in a war doesn’t make him a citizen.”