The student organizers of a legal forum Thursday with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wanted a spirited debate.
What they got — at least during a series of four outbursts — was the shouted protests of Kansas City civil rights activists who came to decry Kobach’s work in restricting immigration and pursuing voter fraud.
Kobach had come home to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law where he’d taught for 15 years, invited this time by the local chapter of the Federalist Society.
There would be discussion, in the subdued voices of lawyers and law students, around Kobach’s concerns about what he sees as an often-polarized judiciary and the effects on President Donald Trump’s challenged executive orders to restrict immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.
But some five minutes into the talk, Indivisible KC member Paffi Flood launched the first disruption, rising and asking a question accusing Kobach of squandering resources to prosecute “non-existent” voter fraud.
When Kobach started to answer the question, Flood and several other people with her broke into a shouted chant — “Let us vote!” — then filed out of the room.
“If I were liberal, I’d be embarrassed,” Kobach said as they exited. “Let’s test our arguments against each other.”
The pattern repeated three more times, with questions followed by shouted chants by a new group that then peacefully filed out of the room.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho! Racism has got to go!”
“United we stand! Divided we fall!”
“We demand equal rights! We demand voting rights!”
Afterward, Flood said her group of protesters were aware that Kobach had invited them to stay and debate.
“We wanted to bring light to the way he’s trying to take voter rights away from people who don’t look like him,” she said. “We were trying to make this point and I feel we got this across.”
The Federalist Society is a “right-leaning” organization, local president and UMKC student Michael Murray said, but “we try to set up the platform for everybody. We want a civil discussion, and we try to keep it as topical as possible.”
And if the group is trying to be topical, Murray added, “that is Kris Kobach.”
He has been tough on immigration and voter-identification laws, having authored much of the legislation that many state legislatures have attempted with varying success. He has advised President Trump as the administration has tried to put a freeze on refugees from several nations that he tied to terrorism.
Kobach’s also weighing a possible run for governor of Kansas.
Thursday he said the Trump administration’s efforts to order immigration restrictions has run aground because of what Kobach said is a long-growing trend of politicization in U.S. courts.
Plaintiffs challenging executive orders can go “jurisdiction shopping,” he said, going where they can predict a favorable outcome.
“In highly politicized areas like this,” Kobach said, “you can pretty much tell what the decision is going to be. ... And that’s a sad commentary on our judiciary.”
Laura Gibbons, a UMKC student and member of the workers’ rights group Stand Up KC, did not remain for that discussion. She joined the group chanting “Racism has got to go!”
Afterward, she said she disrupted Kobach’s talk “to call on all Americans to reject the politics of hate and division.”
“We hope to inspire other people to take actions with us,” she said.
The Federalist Society wanted to have a legal debate, and they got that too, Murray said.
“I’m proud of the school and the way students handled it,” he said.