Kansas judge rejects congressional map; appeal promised

Apr 25, 2022, 9:16 AM | Updated: 3:15 pm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas district court judge on Monday struck down a new Republican-backed congressional map that would likely make it harder for the only Democrat in the state’s delegation to win reelection this year.

It was the first time a court has declared that the Kansas Constitution prohibits political gerrymandering. The state attorney general’s office notified the Kansas Supreme Court almost immediately to expect an appeal of the decision.

Lawsuits over new congressional-district lines have proliferated across the U.S. with Republicans looking to recapture a U.S. House majority in this year’s midterm elections. State courts have issued decisions favoring Democrats in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and a new GOP map in Florida is being challenged. A mid-level appeals court in New York recently declared its new districts drawn unfairly to favor Democrats.

Monday’s decision from Wyandotte County District Judge Bill Klapper in the Kansas City area came a little more than five weeks before the state’s June 1 candidate filing deadline. He ordered legislators to draft another map after declaring that the challenged one not only was too partisan but diluted minority voters’ political clout.

“The Buddha says the only consistent thing in the universe is change. One does not have to be a Buddhist to realize change is always taking place,” Klapper wrote in his 209-page opinion. “We must not be naive enough to believe change can be prevented by suppressing its voice.”

Democrats have criticized the map as political gerrymandering. Lawsuits claimed it violated voting rights and constitutional guarantees of equal rights for all Kansas residents and freedom of speech and assembly. Critics also said the map was unacceptable under the state constitution because it diluted the political power of Black and Hispanic voters in the Kansas City area by splitting them up.

Top Republican legislators immediately dismissed the ruling as coming from a partisan judge because Klapper is an elected Democrat.

“Nobody is shocked by that result,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican. “So on to the next step, which we all expected to be at.”

The map moved the northern part of Kansas City, Kansas, out of the 3rd District represented by Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids and into the larger 2nd District of eastern Kansas represented by Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner. Kansas City, Kansas, is among the few Democratic strongholds in the GOP-leaning state. Davids lost territory where she performs well, while the new map added several rural, heavily Republican counties to her district.

The map also moved the liberal northeast Kansas city of Lawrence — another Democratic stronghold and home to the main University of Kansas campus — out of the 2nd District. The city of 95,000 is now in the already sprawling 1st District of central and western Kansas with small conservative communities, some six hours away by car.

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat, jumped up and down with joy in a Statehouse elevator when she learned of the ruling. She noted that she had argued repeatedly that the map was gerrymandering that hurt minority voters.

“I’m glad they saw it for what it was,” Ballard said.

Klapper ruled in three consolidated lawsuits filed by a voting rights group, Loud Light, and 20 voters in the Kansas City and Lawrence areas. Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, the state’s top elections official, and local elections officials are the defendants.

The state argued that Davids’ district emerged slightly more competitive than it had been. They also said the changes were driven by the need to satisfy past federal court decisions requiring districts to have as equal a number of residents as possible after 10 years of population shifts.

The state’s attorneys also argued that nothing in the Kansas Constitution allows state courts — rather than federal courts — to review congressional maps or to consider political gerrymandering as an issue. Federal judges have decided challenges to Kansas’ congressional redistricting in the past; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.

Klapper wrote: “But when the Kansas Legislature violates the Kansas Constitution, including in its enactment of congressional redistricting legislation, Kansas courts have the power and duty to exercise judicial review and invalidate the Legislature’s unconstitutional action.”

Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court has until May 25 under the state constitution to rule on a separate law redrawing Kansas House, Kansas Senate and State Board of Education districts.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, wipes a tear from her face during a news conference o...

Associated Press

Mother of man who killed Gabby Petito said in letter she would help son ‘dispose of a body’

The mother of the man who killed Gabby Petito told her son in an undated letter that she would “dispose of a body” if needed because she loved him so much, according to copies of the note shared publicly for the first time this week by attorneys for Petito's parents.

4 days ago

A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, places flags in front of e...

Associated Press

5 things to know about Memorial Day including its controversies

Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers.

4 days ago

FILE - This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he test...

Associated Press

Officers describe chaos, fear on Jan. 6 as judge weighs prison time for Oath Keepers’ Rhodes

Police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and public servants who fled the mob's attack told a judge on Wednesday that they are still haunted by what they endured, as the judge prepares to hand down sentences in a landmark Capitol riot case.

5 days ago

Pride month merchandise is displayed at the front of a Target store in Hackensack, N.J., Wednesday,...

Associated Press

Target on the defensive after removing LGBTQ+-themed products

Target once distinguished itself as being boldly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.

6 days ago

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Former Arizona television journalist announces bid for Schweikert’s US House seat

A former Phoenix television journalist announced her candidacy Wednesday for the congressional seat currently held by seven-term Republican Rep. David Schweikert.

6 days ago

Tortoise by Henry Davis earned an honorable mention in the "Adventures in Nature” student photo c...

Associated Press

When you adopt a desert tortoise, prepare for a surprisingly social and zippy pet

They’re not fluffy, they don’t play fetch and they certainly don’t roll over. But there is such a thing as a lap tortoise.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona Photo)...

Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona

5 common causes for chronic neck pain

Neck pain can debilitate one’s daily routine, yet 80% of people experience it in their lives and 20%-50% deal with it annually.

(Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty Images)...

Cox Communications

Valley Boys & Girls Club uses esports to help kids make healthy choices

KTAR’s Community Spotlight focuses on the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and the work to incorporate esports into children's lives.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Kansas judge rejects congressional map; appeal promised