The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to hear an appeal by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach leaves the state with an unwieldy and confusing voter registration process.
But it could be worse. A different decision by the justices could have opened the door for an even more restrictive registration.
Kobach, along with Arizona officials, had asked the Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It said the U.S. Election Assistance Commission does not have to provide a revised federal voter registration form for use in the two states.
Kansas and Arizona both have laws requiring would-be voters to provide proof of U.S. citizenship. That requirement is reflected on state voter registration forms.
But some Kansans fill out a federal voter registration form, which requires only that voters check a box swearing under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens.
That has forced county election clerks to send multiple notices to many citizens, telling them they need to provide proof of citizenship in order to vote in state and local elections. Last November, some Kansans who filled out the federal form but didn’t provide proof of citizenship were limited to voting in federal races only.
Kobach says he will continue the clumsy system. The Kansas Legislature has shown little interest in getting rid of the proof of citizenship requirement, despite no real evidence that noncitizens attempt to vote in U.S. elections. An ACLU lawsuit challenging the higher burden to prove citizenship is stalled in Shawnee County District Court.
The Supreme Court’s rejection of Kobach’s appeal will preserve the status quo. But it at least forestalls the federal government becoming a partner to onerous state voter registration requirements that have already proved burdensome to senior citizens and minorities.
Death penalty drugs
The most disappointing recent decision was a 5-4 opinion made public Monday that will make it easier for states such as Missouri to execute prisoners in potentially cruel ways.
The court ruled that injecting prisoners with a controversial sedative, Midazolam, does not violate the Constitution, even though it appeared not to work in several executions, leaving prisoners awake and conscious for the injection of a different pain-causing, heart-stopping drug.
Missouri, which has carried out numerous executions over the last couple of years, has reportedly used Midazolam, despite an assurance by the state’s director of corrections that the drug wouldn’t be used.
Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion coldly states that “some risk of pain is inherent in every execution” and “while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune.”
That sets a shockingly low standard. The Supreme Court should not give states a green light to employ cruel execution techniques. Far better that the court heed the suggestion of dissenting Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and revisit the question of whether the death penalty is constitutional at all.
Clean Air Act
The court handed some power companies a victory — and the Obama administration a defeat — in a major environmental case. However, the ruling may not turn out to be a major setback for the Clean Air Act.
The court said that the federal Environmental Protection Agency should have taken costs into account years ago when it began formulating regulations regarding emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxins from coal-burning power plants. Some states that are heavily dependent on coal for electricity, including Kansas and Missouri, jumped in to oppose the rules.
Fortunately, many electric utilities began putting in place the emission controls necessary to meet the EPA’s rules, which were scheduled to take effect in April 2015. Monday’s decision does not undo the good work done by those utilities.
In addition, the court essentially laid out a challenge to the EPA. It needs to provide solid information on estimated costs of putting the anti-pollution rules into place in the future. The EPA should do this as quickly as possible. The eventual goal should be to establish the strictest possible curtailment of the health-damaging effects of mercury and other harmful emissions.