Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Republican Congressional Map – News Radio KMAN
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ highest court on Wednesday upheld a Republican redistricting law that makes it harder for the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation to win re-election in a big victory for the GOP.
The state Supreme Court declined to rule that overly partisan gerrymandering violates the Kansas Constitution. The decision sets district boundaries less than a month before the state’s June 10 filing deadline for congressional candidates.
Lawsuits over new congressional district lines have proliferated across the United States as Republicans seek to regain a majority in the US House in this year’s midterm elections. Congressional maps in at least 17 states have inspired lawsuits, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.
In the past, congressional district lines have been reviewed by federal judges, not the state Supreme Court. The conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political matters and not for federal courts to resolve.
The state’s Republican-appointed solicitor general argued in defense of the GOP-drawn map that because the state constitution does not specifically mention gerrymandering or congressional redistricting, the Kansas Supreme Court should dismiss legal challenges. He and other state officials said judges had no guidance on how to define inappropriate political gerrymandering.
“Elected legislators are best placed to determine how to balance competing interests,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, told reporters after the state Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday. .
Democrats argued that the map was drawn to help Republicans unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids in the Kansas City-area 3rd District and that it diluted the political clout of black and Latino voters. Twenty voters and a voting rights group, Loud Light, filed three lawsuits that were consolidated into one, and a lower court sided with them.
“It’s a question of equal treatment,” pleaded Stephen McAllister, one of the lawyers representing the voters, before the highest court in the state. “You’re looking to target groups that were in a position where they had a meaningful opportunity to participate, and that’s taken away from them.”
State courts have ruled in favor of Democrats in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. New York’s highest court recently ruled that state’s new districts were gerrymanders to favor Democrats.
The Kansas lawsuits argued that the state’s bill of rights prohibited partisan gerrymandering by stating that “free governments” are formed for the “equal protection and benefit” of the people and that residents of the States have “equal and inalienable natural rights,” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The state Supreme Court also cited the latter provision in 2019 when declaring access to abortion a “fundamental” right in Kansas.
Republican legislative leaders have argued that based on the 2020 election results, Davids could still win his new district. They said their map was a fair way to rebalance the population in each of the state’s congressional districts to make them as equal as possible after 10 years of demographic shifts.
The map moved the northern portion of Kansas City, Kansas, out of the 3rd District represented by Davids and into the larger 2nd District of eastern Kansas represented by Republican Representative Jake LaTurner. Kansas City, Kansas, is one of the state’s few GOP-leaning Democratic strongholds. Davids lost territory where she does well, while the new map added several heavily Republican rural counties to her district.
The map also moved the liberal town of Lawrence in northeastern Kansas, a Democratic stronghold that is home to the main campus of the University of Kansas and is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Kansas City, out of the 2nd district. Instead, the city of 95,000 was added to the already sprawling 1st District, which is dominated by small, conservative communities in central and western Kansas.
The trial court’s decision relied heavily on the testimony of a University of Michigan political scientist who used a computer algorithm to produce 1,000 alternative redistricting plans to conclude that the new districts “are extreme values pro-Republican partisans”.