Top court: Kansas Constitution allows partisan redistricting

Jun 21, 2022, 9:32 AM | Updated: 3:27 pm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ top court declared Tuesday that the state constitution doesn’t prohibit partisan gerrymandering, prompting one dissenting justice to accuse the majority of ignoring a “full-scale assault on democracy” from a Republican congressional redistricting law.

The state Supreme Court issued the opinion explaining its 4-3 decision last month to approve the new congressional map. It previously issued only a brief opinion that did not explain the majority’s reasons.

The new map makes it harder for the only Democrat in the Kansas congressional delegation, two-term Rep. Sharice Davids, to win reelection in her Kansas City-area district. Davids is the state’s first openly lesbian and Native American woman in Congress.

Dissenting Justice Eric Rosen argued that the decision moves Kansas toward a “one-party system of government,” aids a “power grab” and authorizes “political chicanery.”

“In turning a blind eye to this full-scale assault on democracy in Kansas, the majority blithely ignores the plain language of this state’s Constitution,” Rosen wrote.

Lawsuits over new congressional maps proliferated this year across the U.S., with Republicans looking to recapture a U.S. House majority in November’s midterm elections. Maps in at least 18 states inspired lawsuits, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

In the Kansas Supreme Court’s majority opinion Tuesday, Justice Caleb Stegall said the state constitution’s guarantee of equal legal protection for all citizens does not prohibit the Legislature from considering partisan factors when redrawing lines each decade to make districts as equal in population as possible. The Legislature has Republican supermajorities and traditionally has been controlled by the GOP.

Stegall also argued that unless the state Supreme Court set a “zero tolerance” standard on partisan gerrymandering, it has no clear standards for when it should be prohibited.

“Are there any manageable and neutral judicial standards by which judges can decide that question without resort to our own partisan biases?” Stegall wrote.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican running for governor, praised the court’s majority, saying it “declined invitations to substitute its redistricting preferences for those of the people’s elected representatives.”

Kansas courts previously had not been asked to consider whether the state constitution bars political gerrymandering. Federal judges — not the Kansas courts — have typically reviewed the state’s congressional boundaries, but the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.

Stegall is widely seen as the seven-member court’s most conservative justice, having been appointed by conservative GOP Gov. Sam Brownback in 2014. But he was joined in the majority by a justice appointed by a moderate Republican governor and two who were appointed by Democrats. All of the dissenters were appointed by Democratic governors.

The majority also rejected critics’ claims that the new congressional map represented racial gerrymandering because it split the Black and Hispanic populations in the Kansas City areas between two districts. Stegall wrote that the aggrieved voters did not show that race was the predominant factor in how the lines were drawn.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which represented 11 voters, said in a statement that the decision was especially harmful to minority voters who were “targeted and silenced.”

Democrats accused Republicans of planning to hurt Davids politically. Although Republicans said that was not the case, a now-retired state Senate leader said publicly in 2020 that fellow Republicans could draw all four congressional districts to favor the GOP and “guarantee” a plan that “takes out” Davids.

Republican lawmakers noted repeatedly that the Kansas side of the Kansas City area has too many people to fit into a single congressional district, requiring some sort of split. And they argued that Davids still would win her new district based on 2020 election results.

The new congressional map moved the northern part of Kansas City, Kansas, out of the 3rd District represented by Davids and into the larger 2nd District of eastern Kansas represented by Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner. Kansas City, Kansas, is among the state’s few Democratic strongholds.

The map also moved the liberal city of Lawrence — a Democratic stronghold only about 40 miles west (64 kilometers) of Kansas City and home to the main University of Kansas campus –out of the 2nd District. Instead, the city of 95,000 has been added to the already sprawling 1st District, which is dominated by small conservative communities in central and western Kansas.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter:

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


FILE - U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz listens during a news conference, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washi...

Associated Press

US Border Patrol chief is retiring after seeing through end of Title 42 immigration restrictions

The head of the U.S. Border Patrol announced Tuesday that he was retiring, after seeing through a major policy shift that seeks to clamp down on illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border following the end of Title 42 pandemic restrictions.

20 hours ago

FILE - President Joe Biden talks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., on the House steps as...

Associated Press

House OKs debt ceiling bill to avoid default, sends Biden-McCarthy deal to Senate

The House approved a debt ceiling and budget cuts package late Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy assembled a bipartisan coalition of centrist Democrats and Republicans against fierce conservative blowback and progressive dissent.

20 hours ago

Sean Bickings (Family Photo via city of Tempe)...

Associated Press

Family of man who drowned last year in Tempe Town Lake files wrongful death lawsuit

The family of a man who drowned in Tempe Town Lake a year ago filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city Wednesday, noting that its police department doesn't have a policy requiring officers to go into the water to save someone.

20 hours ago

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Associated Press

Florida police search for 3 gunmen who wounded 9 at crowded beach on Memorial Day

Police are responding to a shooting near the beach broadwalk in Hollywood, Florida.

3 days ago

Crew members assemble the main stage ahead of the 2023 Scripps Nations Spelling Bee on Sunday, May ...

Associated Press

Exclusive secrets of the National Spelling Bee: Picking the words to identify a champion

As the final pre-competition meeting of the Scripps National Spelling Bee's word selection panel stretches into its seventh hour, the pronouncers no longer seem to care.

3 days ago

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.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Thank you to Al McCoy for 51 years as voice of the Phoenix Suns

Sanderson Ford wants to share its thanks to Al McCoy for the impact he made in the Valley for more than a half-decade.


OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

How to identify the symptoms of 3 common anxiety disorders

Living with an anxiety disorder can be debilitating and cause significant stress for those who suffer from the condition.

(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.

Top court: Kansas Constitution allows partisan redistricting