WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court laid out on Wednesday the legal reasoning behind its decision earlier this month that allowed thousands of Kansas residents to register to vote without providing documents proving their U.S. citizenship.
The 85-page opinion from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals came a day after voter registration closed in Kansas for the November election. The appeals court had earlier this month upheld a preliminary injunction that forced Kansas to register people who filled out voter applications at motor vehicle offices.
"There can be no dispute that the right to vote is a constitutionally protected fundamental right," the appeals court wrote.
The opinion released Wednesday essentially explained why the appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson's preliminary injunction requiring the state to register thousands of people for federal elections. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several prospective voters and the League of Women Voters.
Legal challenges in multiple lawsuits have temporarily allowed people who registered when getting their driver's licenses or when using a federal form to vote in all federal, state and local races in the November election without having to prove their U.S. citizenship.
Meanwhile, the legal maneuvering continues against the state law that requires people who register to vote to provide documentary proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization certificate.
In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson set aside a court clerk's default judgment filed last week after Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach failed to file a timely response in a separate lawsuit. His negligence in missing the deadline was not willful, she said.
Robinson's ruling means the case will proceed in the courts.
Kobach called the effort to get a default judgment "an attempt to play gotcha and win this case on a technicality."
"We've been litigating this case for more than a year," Kobach said. "The notion that we have failed to defend the position of the state is ludicrous."
That lawsuit, filed by prospective voter Parker Bednasek, contends the state's proof-of-citizenship law violates the U.S. Constitution. If he prevails, his lawsuit will effectively strike down the law in its entirety.
The case is of "constitutional significance and public interest," Robinson said. "This case deserves to be decided on the merits and not through procedural default," she said.
Kobach, a conservative Republican, has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as an anti-fraud measure that keeps non-citizens from voting, including immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Critics say such requirements suppress voter turnout, particularly among young and minority voters, and that there have been few cases of voter fraud in the past.