Kansas Supreme Court issues full opinions on legislative, congressional redistricting cases

Justices outline details of decisions affirming constitutionality of maps

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The Kansas Supreme Court released full opinions Tuesday of decisions affirming constitutionality of new congressional and legislative district maps for use in the 2022 elections that concluded reliance on partisanship to gerrymander district boundaries wasn’t prohibited.

Justice Caleb Stegall, writing for the majority in the congressional mapping case, said absence of standards in the Kansas Constitution or in Kansas statute limiting the Legislature’s use of political factors when crafting boundaries left the Supreme Court without a basis to reject work of state lawmakers.

“We can discern no judicially manageable standards by which to judge a claim that the Legislature relied too heavily on the otherwise lawful factor of partisanship when drawing district lines,” Stegall said in the 105-page opinion on the congressional map. “As such, the question presented is a political question and is nonjusticiable, at least until such a time as the Legislature or the people of Kansas choose to codify such a standard into law.”

In May, the Supreme Court released a notice reversing Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper. He had found unconstitutional the congressional map splitting racially diverse Wyandotte County between the 2nd and 3rd Districts and moving liberal-leaning Lawrence to the rural 1st District.

The state’s highest court let stand the “Ad Astra 2” congressional map drafted by Republican legislators and adopted over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto.

That GOP map contained in Senate Bill 355 was designed to undermine reelection prospects of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the lone Democrat in the state’s federal delegation.

The Supreme Court also affirmed last month constitutionality of the map outlining districts of the Kansas House and Kansas Senate. In the subsequent analysis Tuesday, Stegall wrote in a 15-page opinion the Legislature’s recasting of the 125 House and 40 Senate districts was “not a perfect plan,” because no “district reapportionment plan ever is.”

He said contents of Senate Bill 563, which applied 2020 Census figures to the remapping task, did comply with the Kansas Constitution.

“The Legislature used the procedure required by the Kansas Constitution to pass the bill,” said Stegall, an appointee of GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. “The legislative maps contained in Sub. SB 563 also satisfy the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote; they are not discriminatory; they satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act; and they raise no additional constitutional concerns.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/06/21/kansas-supreme-court-issues-full-opinions-on-legislative-congressional-redistricting-cases/

New state House, Senate maps receive Kansas Supreme Court approval

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the validity Wednesday of the newly drawn boundaries for state House and Senate districts.

The decision comes two days after justices heard oral arguments in response to a petition filed April 25 by Attorney General Derek Schmidt requesting the court review the maps contained in Senate Bill 563. The state constitution requires this petition to be filed within 15 days of map publication in the Kansas register and gives the court 30 days to consider the matter from the time of filing.

Opponents of the maps raised issues with a perceived lack of consideration given to communities of interest and other redistricting guidelines. But Schmidt asked the court to look past the process to the eventual product, which he said violated no law.

By ruling in favor of the new legislative districts, the panel of justices appeared to concur with the attorney general’s line of thought.

“Because the Constitution requires this court to enter judgment within 30 days from the filing of the petition, today we announce our decision unanimously upholding the validity, under article 10, section 1 of the Kansas Constitution, of the state senatorial and representative districts,” wrote Justice Caleb Stegall in the decision.

Stegall, an appointee of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, added that a full opinion with “the facts, rationale, and holdings” was forthcoming.

Because new boundaries were not established before May 10, the filing deadline for for the Aug. 2 primary election for U.S. House, state House and Board of Education races was pushed back from June 1 to noon on June 10. Statewide offices and districts without changes to their districts still must file by June 1.

Up for grabs in 2022: one of the two U.S. Senate seats, all four U.S. House seats, all six Kansas government statewide offices, all 125 Kansas House seats and five of the 10 Kansas Board of Education seats.

Schmidt, the presumptive GOP nominee for governor, applauded the decision.

“We have successfully defended every Kansan’s right to equal protection of the law in exercising their right to vote, as well as the public’s right to establish new districts through their elected representatives,” Schmidt said. “I am grateful for the expeditious manner in which the court announced the outcome of the case, and this year’s candidate filings and election preparations can now proceed.”

Many Kansans filed written testimony to the Supreme Court, including the League of Women Voters co-president Martha Pint, who said the Legislature’s allocation of the House districts and 40 Senate districts intentionally fractured communities of color, weakening minority voting strength. Communities of note included Wichita, Olathe, Kansas City, Kansas, Leavenworth and Lawrence, the latter two of which were the subject of complaints from an intervening party during oral arguments.

Mark Johnson, a Kansas City area attorney, represented Democratic Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City, who was placed in a new district where he would have to run in 2024 against incumbent Republican Sen. Beverley Gossage of Eudora. Under the bill, Senate district lines would remain the same until 2024, but Johnson argued unsuccessfully that the new maps would leave Kansans confused and misrepresented.

“I think you need to look at the process that led to the district lines that are at issue here, rather than simply the procedure by which the legislation was passed,” Johnson told justices Monday. “It’s a broader question.”

Under the state constitution, the Legislature must produce updated maps for the 125 Kansas House districts, 40 Kansas Senate districts, the Kansas Board of Education and the state’s four U.S. House districts every 10 years. The bill containing the new maps was approved 83-40 in the House and 29-11 in the Senate before Gov. Laura Kelly signed it.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/05/18/new-state-house-senate-maps-receive-kansas-supreme-court-approval/

Garner responds to Kansas Supreme Court opinion on redistricting

Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner responded to a Kansas Supreme Court decision upholding a Kansas Legislature congressional redistricting map that split Wyandotte County.

“In light of the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling, to say we are disappointed is an understatement,” Mayor Garner stated in a news release.

“In my opinion, the challenges it poses for Wyandotte County to have representation that reflects a unified vision for the interest and values of our residents has in effect been compromised.

“We recognize that those living north of 70 with a median income of $35,000 will now compete with those living south of 70 with a median income of $50,000. We also realize that the reapportionment of our county may place our residents in direct competition with other Kansans whose needs greatly differ, that may cause priorities to be subject to enhanced scrutiny.

“We are not just a Unified Government, but a unified community. I pray that this new dynamic does not shatter the spirit of shared values and interests that splitting our county’s desire for equitable representation may bring to a community that is still struggling to receive the attention and economikc investment that can not just improve Wyandotte County’s standing but more importantly p eople’s lives.

“With that being said, Wyandotte County is a resilient community comprised of dedicated people that are determined to enhance and improve the quality of life for all those that call Wyandotte County home. As Mayor, I will continue to fight to be a voice of hope for the improved destiny of our residents, not just today but well into the future.”

Adkins statement:

Amanda Adkins, a Republican candidate for U.S. Representative, 3rd District, issued this statement:

“The map released today is evidence that our democratic process works,” said Adkins. “I welcome the people of Anderson, Franklin, and southern Miami counties to KS-03 and am excited to get to work for the new district, a thriving community of urban, suburban, and rural areas. ”

“KS-03 deserves a Congresswoman who has a plan for our community. There are so many crucial issues that Washington should be working to address right now, from rising prices at the grocery store and the gas pump to the crisis at our southern border,” Adkins stated. “I’m running for Congress to work towards solutions to these issues and to help get our country back on track.”

“My team and I are ready to hit the ground running in the new district and I look forward to representing the people of Anderson, Franklin, Johnson, Miami and Wyandotte counties in Congress.”

ACLU statement

The ACLU in Kansas issued this statement:

“We’re obviously very disappointed for our clients,” said Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas. “Equal protection under our state’s constitution is supposed to mean something. But as a result of this decision, minority voters and Democratic voters will have their voices diluted for the next ten years. The ACLU of Kansas will never stop fighting for the rights of all Kansans, and this decision won’t change that fact.”

Lawyers in the three plaintiff cases said they will not appeal.

The state’s candidate filing deadline is June 1, Kansas ballots sent to military service members must be mailed by June 17, and the primary election is in early August.

“The Kansas Supreme Court’s reversal of the lower court’s decision is a slap in the face to voters and runs afoul of the democratic values spelled out in Kansas’ own Constitution,” said Paul Smith, senior vice president of Campaign Legal Center. “The Kansas Legislature crafted gerrymandered maps that purposefully divide Kansans based on their race and political views to serve their political interests instead of the community’s needs. Campaign Legal Center will continue fighting for fair maps, because Kansas voters deserve to choose their politicians instead of the other way around.”

Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper said in a previous ruling that the state Constitution protected against political gerrymandering that divided communities of color.

“This court suggests most Kansans would be appalled to know how the contest has been artificially engineered to give one segment of the political apparatus an unfair and unearned advantage,” Klapper wrote.

ACLU of Kansas Executive Director Micah Kubic said the fight will continue.

“This case is only one skirmish in the wholesale assault on democracy in Kansas and around the country,” Kubic said. “Although today’s ruling is disappointing, we will continue to use every ounce of energy we’ve got to defend democracy and protect our shared values. In defending democracy and our values, we don’t give up, we don’t give out, and we don’t give in. As politicians in Kansas continue to try to denigrate our democracy, the ACLU, our supporters and our partners will be there to stand in their way.”

Schmidt statement:

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued this statement:

“Today’s decisions confirm that the legislative and congressional reapportionments of Kansas enacted by the Legislature this year are constitutionally sound. We have successfully defended every Kansan’s right to equal protection of the law in exercising their right to vote, as well as the public’s right to establish new districts through their elected representatives. It is regrettable that Kansas taxpayers have had to bear the unnecessary cost of successfully defending the duly enacted congressional reapportionment against multiple lawsuits backed by out-of-state activists. I am grateful for the expeditious manner in which the court announced the outcome of the cases, and this year’s candidate filings and election preparations can now proceed.”

Statement from Tom Sawyer, House Democratic leader

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer released this statement:

“I’m happy to see the Court agreed with the Legislature that the Kansas House maps are fair. They were passed with wide bipartisan support and that is reflected in the Court’s opinion.
Unfortunately, the decision regarding Congressional maps opens a pandora’s box for even worse political gerrymandering in the future. Lawrence does not belong in the Big First and Wyandotte should not have been split. Residents of western Kansas, Lawrence, and Wyandotte all agreed on this throughout the redistricting process and made this clear to the Joint Redistricting Committee. The voters in Lawrence and Wyandotte will be silenced by this decision.
Because the Court ruled the Kansas Constitution was not violated, this decision makes clear it’s time for an amendment that clarifies gerrymandering is unconstitutional and prohibited in the state. I call on my colleagues to bring a constitutional amendment to the ballot on this issue.”