A Texas judge has dealt a blow to President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, ruling that state officials would be violating state privacy laws if they hand over voters’ personal information to commission members.
The ruling, which came down on October 3, is a temporary restraining order, which means that the state is blocked from sharing that information for the time being.
That could prove to be a major hurdle for the commission’s head, Kansas’s secretary state Kris Kobach, a high-profile voter fraud crusader.
At the directive of the president, Kobach has been working with Vice President Mike Pence to eliminate instances of voter fraud, of which there are statistically very few. To accomplish this, their commission has asked state election officials to share specific voter information, including voters’ felony conviction history, voter history, and partial Social Security numbers, along with a host of other details.
In July, the Trump administration told states to hold off on sending that information as the courts considered lawsuits related to privacy concerns about the request. Later that month, after a court victory, Kobach’s commission sent a second request to states to share voters’ information.
On Tuesday, Judge Sulak of Texas’s 353rd Civil District Court issued a temporary restraining order barring Texas election officials from sharing voters’ information with Kobach’s commission. His stated reason: sharing the information “may imminently violate” Texas law since there are not “appropriate precautions to safeguard the privacy and security of that information.”
The ruling is in response to a lawsuit that the League of Women Voters and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP brought against the Texas secretary of state. There have been numerous other lawsuits launched against the commission and at least 44 states have said they would not be handing over any or some of the information that Kobach has requested.
Kobach has insisted that his requests fall within legal bounds. But his own office in Kansas has said it won’t be turning over information to the Trump commission.
The Texas ruling was hailed by critics of Kobach’s efforts as a victory for privacy rights.
“We’re pleased the judge is blocking them from giving it to somebody who has not at all explained to them or anyone else any plans to keep that information safe,” said Joshua Geltzer, a Georgetown Law professor who filed a declaration on cybersecurity concerns that the judge cited in his order.