Kansas secretary of state and Breitbart columnist Kris Kobach, who frequently pushes voter fraud misinformation on Fox News, spectacularly failed in his effort to mount a defense for his state’s voter registration law in a federal court trial in March. Federal judge Julie Robinson both struck down the Kansas law and ordered Kobach to take remedial classes after repeatedly violating the judge’s orders, including trying to introduce evidence after Robinson had specifically excluded it. Fox, which has pushed the debunked specter of widespread voter fraud for a decade, provided no coverage of the trial as it progressed between March 6 and March 19.
In 2013, Kansas began enforcing the Kobach-backed Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) law, which required residents who did not have a driver’s license to show proof of citizenship with documents such as a birth certificate or U.S. passport when registering to vote. In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing the law after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law violated the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires state voter registration forms to merely “contain an attestation that the applicant meets” eligibility requirements, such as citizenship. According to the ACLU, the law blocked tens of thousands of voter registrations in Kansas.
Kobach, who writes columns for Breitbart.com, has appeared on Fox News numerous times; a search of Nexis transcripts, which cover less than half of Fox’s shows, revealed nearly 60 appearances by Kobach. During a number of these appearances, he pushed an anti-immigrant agenda. He has also discussed the Kansas voter registration law at least twice on Fox News.
Fox has spent years pushing bunk voter fraud claims and supporting Republican efforts to make voting harder in response to the fear they inspire.Considering that history, one might expect the network to closely cover Kobach’s chance to prove the necessity of stringent voter identification laws. But that hasn’t been the case; according to a search of closed-captioning transcripts on SnapStream and iQ media, Fox mentioned the trial only twice, in two short news updates on March 7, for a grand total of 50 seconds of coverage of a trial that stretched over six days.
Perhaps Fox’s lackluster coverage was due to Kobach’s repeated blunders during the trial. Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, in an article headlined “Kris Kobach is a loser,” wrote that the trial was “an unmitigated disaster for Kobach—a merciless rebuke of his professional life’s work.” And HuffPost voting rights reporter Sam Levine noted that a witness Kobach called forward during the trial to supposedly show how easy it was to register without the required documents actually “testified there was a burdensome process” to prove her citizenship and register to vote. (This sloppiness may have been foreseeable, as Kobach has been caught plagiarizing a column for Breitbart; one of Kobach’s citations for that Breitbart column was a white nationalist writer with a reported history of Holocaust denialism.)
The following quotes from the daily coverage of the trial by Kansas City NPR member station KCUR show just how embarrassing Kobach’s performance was:
Day 1: The judge scolded Kobach and his team for improperly trying to introduce new evidence and not knowing courtroom rules.
- “Kobach and an attorney from his office, Sue Becker, got off to a rocky start when they were blocked from showing to the court — and asking witnesses questions about — multiple documents that Kobach’s team hadn’t formally introduced as evidence. ‘Evidence 101 — not going to do it,’ said Judge Julie Robinson.”
- “Kobach’s side repeatedly stumbled on other rules, too, leading the judge to cut off some of their lines of questioning to the witnesses.”
- “In another instance, Becker appeared not to understand the rules for referencing depositions in court. She stood and took directions from the judge.”
Day 2: Kobach’s team again tried to improperly introduce evidence
- “Kobach’s legal team continued to trip up on courtroom procedures, such as how to introduce evidence and quote from depositions while cross-examining witnesses.”
Day 3: Kobach’s legal team again violated courtroom procedure.
- “The day’s court session ended abruptly amid a string of admonishments from the judge for the Kobach team, which repeatedly tried maneuvers that would have violated trial procedure.”
Day 5: Kobach still had trouble properly introducing evidence, and one of his witnesses repeatedly interrupted the judge.
- “Kobach’s office faced more hurdles to entering evidence — things the legal team hadn’t provided in advance of trial. That included new calculations related to how often non-citizens vote.”
- “In the afternoon, testimony from Old Dominion University’s Jesse Richman devolved quickly into argument. In the course of answering questions from the ACLU and Robinson about his data sources, the political science professor repeatedly interrupted the judge.”
Day 6: Kobach team witness Jesse Richman admitted a racist method for flagging potential noncitizen voters and agreed Kobach’s and Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election is baseless.
- “An ACLU lawyer asked him whether he would label ‘Carlos Murguia’ foreign, and when Richman replied he probably would, revealed Murguia is a federal judge in that very courthouse.”
- “The ACLU also showed a 2016 video in which Kobach, while speaking with reporters, backs President Trump’s claims that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because of millions of illegally cast ballots. Richman agreed with an ACLU lawyer that his research hasn’t shown this to be true and he doesn’t know of any research that has.”
Day 7: The judge said a Kobach lawyer was “being schizophrenic” over failure to properly present witness testimony from a pollster.
- “[Kobach’s team] struggled to include the pollster’s testimony in the trial, tripping up again on court rules that require disclosing expert witnesses in advance. Kobach lawyer Sue Becker argued Judge Julie Robinson had already said McFerron is an expert witness, which the judge promptly explained wasn’t true. Becker drew consternation from Robinson and ACLU lawyers by vacillating back and forth between treating McFerron as an expert witness or simply as a fact witness who was presenting poll results. ‘You're being schizophrenic,’ Robinson told Becker.”
Though the trial ended on March 19, that wasn’t the end to Kobach’s problems regarding the ACLU’s lawsuit. On March 20, the same judge, Julie Robinson, presided over a contempt hearing stemming from Kobach’s apparent failure to enforce her May 2016 order to register the tens of thousands of voters blocked from his law. NPR reported that it didn’t go well for Kobach:
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach got a tongue lashing Tuesday from the judge who will decide whether he violated federal law by blocking tens of thousands of voter applications.
Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in “gamesmanship” and skirting her orders.
In the nearly two years since Robinson ordered him to register those voters, she said, he has forced her and the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor his actions down to the tiniest details in an effort to get him to comply.
“I've had to police this over and over and over again,” she said.
Kobach, who hopes to be Kansas' next governor, asked the judge not to find him in contempt. The Republican candidate argued he doesn't control the county officials who carry out logistics such as sending postcards to voters to let them know where their polling stations are.
Robinson, at times sounding livid with the secretary, gave him a dressing-down.
“These people are not second-class registered voters,” she told him. “You assured me that they had or they would get the postcards.”
On April 18, Judge Robinson ordered Kobach to be held in contempt of court for disobeying her orders to register voters, mandating that Kobach pay for the ACLU’s attorney fees for the case. Two months later, Judge Robinson struck down Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reported on June 18 that the judge “found that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The court specifically rejected Kobach and Fox’s argument about voter fraud, finding that the law “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”
Judge Robinson additionally “sanctioned Kobach with six hours of continuing legal education related to rules of civil procedure or evidence” due to his repeated violations of his rules throughout the trial.