Protests against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s immigration agenda physically came to his doorstep recently. A group advocating amnesty for illegal immigrants protested on Kobach’s front porch, prompting Kobach to tell Fox News that the incident is an example of why Americans should bear arms.
Substantively, however, Kobach suffered a much more significant blow from Washington, D.C.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on an Arizona law near and dear to Kobach. Arizona approved Proposition 200 eight years ago, requiring prospective voters to provide citizenship documentation. Federal law only mandates that a voter registrant sign an oath stating he is a citizen. Arizona’s referendum went further than the federal law, shifting the burden of proof away from the government and onto the registrant.
Kobach has made a national name for himself as the champion of hard-line illegal immigration reform. Consulting on laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070, which allows law enforcement officials to stop people to check for immigration status, and developing Kansas laws, such as the 2011 bill requiring prospective voter registrants to show proof of citizenship like in Arizona, Kobach personifies the immigration warrior in the United States.
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The strategy may pay off for Kobach with popularity among movement conservatives, but for the second time in a year the Supreme Court has dealt his particular brand of policy a serious setback. In June 2012, the Supreme Court overturned multiple components of SB 1070 while giving Kobach a partial win by upholding the vital provision allowing police to demand proof of citizenship status.
With such a partisan divide on the issue, the bipartisanship of the Supreme Court’s decision is striking.
During oral arguments three months ago, Kobach contributed to the conservative magazine National Review Online, claiming that a liberal bloc of four justices would vote to nullify while the four conservatives justices and possibly one moderate would uphold it. Kobach’s prediction was drastically off.
The lead author of the opinion was conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. The 7-2 opinion was a massive defeat for the proof-of-citizenship law, rejected by not only the most liberal member of the court but the most conservative as well.
Kobach’s penchant for damn-the-torpedoes policy is controversial in its very nature, so it is not surprising to see many of the laws he has written or consulted on challenged in the courts. Controversies like these are the reason courts exist.
But Kobach’s laws tend to be overturned at least partially when challenged in the judiciary. If Kobach is merely engaging in symbolic politics, the defense costs for Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office suggest he is playing an expensive game positioning himself for either Capitol Hill or Cedar Crest.
Kobach said that he believed the ruling would have little to no effect on Kansas law. If Kobach does ignore the Supreme Court’s decision, he can expect some of those same groups who have protested against him to bring federal action to enforce quicker than you can say “Voting Rights Act.”
With Kobach’s recent record, he probably shouldn’t bet on a win anytime soon.