TOPEKA, Kansas — Former Democratic lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis can continue as an attorney in a federal lawsuit challenging voter registration restrictions, an attorney for the Kansas Ethics Commission said Thursday.
Davis and another Democratic attorney are representing two northeast Kansas residents with incomplete registrations who are suing Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The Kansas Republican Party asked earlier this week that Davis be ordered to withdraw from the case, citing a possible conflict with state law.
In 2011, while serving in the Kansas House, Davis voted for a law requiring people to prove citizenship when they register to vote. The state GOP said Kansas law bans former and current lawmakers who voted for a legislative action from later arguing in court that the action is unconstitutional.
However, the law says the lawmaker cannot cite an "error in legislative process" while arguing the law is unconstitutional.
Brett Barry, general counsel for the Ethics Commission, said Thursday Davis' brief in the lawsuit does not cite legislative error, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1htewwE ).
The brief cites a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that Arizona could not reject voter registrations made with the federal "Motor Voter" form because the voter had not provided proof of citizenship. Barry said that decision came two years after approval of the Kansas bill "and that's probably the basis upon which Paul Davis is interpreting the federal act."
Barry also said the statute cited by the GOP wouldn't apply because the term in which Davis voted on proof of citizenship ended in January 2013 and the Kansas law prohibits attorneys from arguing in such cases for only one year.
The GOP had argued that the one-year prohibition covered the time since Davis left office in January 2015 after he lost his race for governor.
Clay Barker, an attorney who is executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said he disagreed with Barry but the party does not plan to pursue the issue.
"I'm not saying they're completely wrong," Barker said. "But I think the idea of the statute is you can't vote for something and turn around and say it's unconstitutional."
Davis said earlier this week that Republicans were ignoring language in the ethics law that made it clear the law does not apply to the lawsuit. He called Arnold's demand "a media stunt" designed to divert attention from Kobach's efforts to cancel more than 31,000 incomplete voter registrations.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com