TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas’ highest court ruled on Tuesday that the state’s constitution does not ban partisan gerrymandering, prompting a dissenting judge to accuse the majority of ignoring a “large-scale attack on democracy” by a Republican Congressional Redistricting Act.
The new card makes it more difficult for the lone Democrat in Kansas’ congressional delegation, two-term Representative Sharice Davids, to be re-elected in her Kansas City-area district. Davids is the state’s first openly lesbian and Native American woman in Congress.
Dissenting Judge Eric Rosen argued that the ruling steers Kansas toward a “one-party system of government,” facilitates a “power grab” and allows for “political chicanery.”
“By 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.
Prosecutions on the new maps of Congress proliferated this year across the United States as Republicans seek to regain a majority in the United States House in November’s midterm elections. Maps in at least 18 states have inspired lawsuits, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.
In the Kansas Supreme Court’s majority opinion on Tuesday, Justice Caleb Stegall said the state’s constitution guarantee of equal legal protection for all citizens does not preclude the legislature from considering partisan factors when redrawing the lines every decade to make districts as equal in population as possible. The legislature has Republican supermajorities and is traditionally controlled by the GOP.
Stegall also argued that unless the state Supreme Court establishes a “zero tolerance” standard on partisan gerrymandering, it has no clear standards for when it should be banned.
“Are there manageable, neutral judicial standards by which judges can decide this issue without resorting to our own partisan biases?” Stegall wrote.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, hailed the majority of the court, saying he “refused invitations to substitute his redistricting preferences for those of the people’s elected representatives.”
Previously, Kansas courts had not been asked to determine whether the state constitution prohibited political gerrymandering. Federal judges — not Kansas courts — have generally scrutinized state congressional boundaries, but the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court dominated 5-4 in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political matters and not for the federal courts to resolve.
Stegall is widely considered the most conservative judge on the seven-member court, having been nominated by conservative GOP Governor Sam Brownback in 2014. But he was joined by a majority by a judge appointed by a moderate Republican governor and two who were nominated by the Democrats. . All dissenters were nominated by Democratic governors.
The majority also dismissed critics’ claims that the new Congressional map represented racial gerrymandering because it separated black and Hispanic populations in areas of Kansas City between two districts. Stegall wrote that aggrieved voters failed to 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 particularly damaging to minority voters who were “targeted and silenced.”
Democrats have accused Republicans of wanting to hurt Davids politically. Although Republicans have said that is not the case, a now-retired state Senate leader publicly stated in 2020 that his fellow Republicans could attract all four congressional districts to favor the GOP and “guarantee “a plan that “eliminates” Davids.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly noted that the Kansas City side of the Kansas City area has too many people to fit in a single congressional district, necessitating some sort of split. And they argued that Davids would still win his new district based on the results of the 2020 election.
The new congressional map moved the northern portion of Kansas City, Kansas, out of the 3rd district represented by Davids and into the larger 2nd district in eastern Kansas represented by Republican Representative Jake LaTurner. Kansas City, Kansas is one of the few Democratic strongholds in the state.
The map has also been moved the liberal town of lawrence — a Democratic stronghold about 40 miles west (64 kilometers) of Kansas City and home to the main campus of the University of Kansas — outside 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.
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