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KS Supreme Court judge apologizes for voting law lawsuit

Supreme Court Justice Dan Biles listens to oral arguments on Kansas election laws.

The Kansas Reflector



TOPEKA

A Kansas Supreme Court judge has recused himself from a case that decided voting is not a “fundamental right” protected by the state Constitution.

The case focused on three voting laws passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2021 that were subsequently challenged by community groups such as Loud Light and the League of Women Voters of Kansas.

The court upheld one law that limited the number of absentee ballots one could cast on behalf of others to 10, arguing that the law did not restrict freedom of expression or impose additional barriers to voting.

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The Supreme Court remanded to the lower courts for reconsideration of a law that criminalized the impersonation of an election official and another law that required matching and verifying signatures on advanced ballots for an individual’s voter registration.

The decision likely means Republican lawmakers will face fewer hurdles in their efforts to pass laws that would change or limit the state’s mail-in, absentee and ballot collection laws.

Typically, a judge’s refusal indicates a conflict of interest or an inability to remain impartial. Even if a judge has no bias, he or she is supposed to remove himself or herself from a trial if the average person has reason to doubt a judge’s impartiality.

The defendants in the case, Attorney General Kris Kobach and Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, sought a “public explanation” for Judge Dan Biles’ self-removal or dismissal from the case. Neither suspect claimed personal bias or impartiality.

Biles, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2009, declined to provide such an explanation. In his response to Kobach and Schwab’s requests, he simply stated that a judge is not required to explain his or her reasons for dismissing a case.

“Such an explanation is necessary only if the judge, knowing all the circumstances, finds that the facts reasonably justify granting a motion for disqualification,” Biles wrote.

“I deny the request to engage in this matter, even though Appellees Schwab and Kobach asked ‘both reluctantly and respectfully,’” Biles said. “They are not entitled to the relief they seek.”

Biles’ response to Kobach and Schwab included a 2012 opinion in which Biles denied a request to recuse himself. In a 2012 lawsuit that ended with the indefinite suspension of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline’s law license, Biles denied Kline’s request to remove himself from the case.

Kline asserted that an objective observer might harbor doubts about Biles’ impartiality and that his denial would strengthen public confidence in the impartiality of the courts. Kline raised a number of issues, including his donations and ties to then-Gov. Sebelius, his involvement in a school finance case and donations to political opponents.

Five Supreme Court justices apologized for the case, but Biles did not. Yet he offered a rebuttal to each of Kline’s claims.

Speaking about both cases, Biles asserted that the high-profile nature of cases against a former or current attorney general does not change the denial criteria.

“It doesn’t matter whether a litigant characterizes his case as ‘politically charged,’ as the Appellees do here,” Biles said. “The standards remain the same, as I have previously explained in some detail the only other time my profession has been questioned.”