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Eagle editorial: Schmidt looks other way

  • Published Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013, at 12 a.m.

It’s disappointing but not surprising that Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt won’t issue an opinion on whether our state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement to register to vote is constitutional. Schmidt has shown no desire to stand up to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and defend the rights of thousands of disenfranchised voters.

How about Barry Grissom, the U.S. attorney for Kansas? Gov. Sam Brownback?

Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement was unconstitutional, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, requested a formal attorney general opinion about Kansas’ law. After three months without responding, Schmidt’s office finally sent Hensley a reply last week.

Because the American Civil Liberties Union announced its intention to sue, Schmidt won’t issue an opinion.“The subject of litigation will be resolved by the judiciary,” the letter to Hensley said.

Attorneys general are understandably cautious when their states are likely to be sued, but Schmidt has never seemed interested in intervening on this issue. That’s too bad, because his job is to protect the rights of Kansans, and his formal opinion – even though it is nonbinding – is valuable.

As it is, lawmakers have relied heavily on Kobach’s assurances that the proof-of-citizenship requirement is constitutional. Even after the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against the Arizona law, Kobach claimed – despite the clear wording of Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion – that Kansas’ requirement was still OK.

Kobach’s recent actions indicate that he doesn’t really believe that. He proposed a bizarre scheme to create a two-tiered voting system, in which some citizens would be allowed to vote in federal election but not in state and local races. He then filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing federal officials to allow additional voter-registration requirements.

Meanwhile, as Schmidt and others have looked the other way, about 17,000 Kansans have had their voting rights “suspended.” That total will keep growing by about 2,000 people per month until the courts or the Legislature end this charade.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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