Kansas Court Strikes Down Gerrymandered Congressional Map
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Kansas judge on Monday tossed out a congressional district map drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, holding that it was an unlawful partisan gerrymander aimed at diluting the power of Black and Hispanic voters in and around Kansas City.
The lawsuit challenging the map, Rivera v. Schwab, was filed in February 2022 by Kansas voters and the nonprofit organization Loud Light with the support of the National Redistricting Foundation.
The lawsuit claimed the map, known as “Ad Astra 2,” inexplicably shifted a large number of Kansans out of their prior districts, in violation of the state’s redistricting guidelines.
This practice primarily targeted the Kansas counties of Wyandotte and Douglas, which include predominantly Democratic voters and voters of color.
Specifically, they said, the Republican gerrymander of congressional maps split the Black and Hispanic communities of Kansas City into two separate districts, and diluted the votes of those communities by lumping them into districts that are overwhelmingly white and Republican.
Instead of preserving the Kansas City metro area in one congressional district, the gerrymandered map unnecessarily divided the metro area in half.
The lawsuit also took issue with the division of Douglas County, which contains the city of Lawrence, where about one in four residents identify as a member of a minority community.
It placed Lawrence into a separate district from the rest of Douglas County in spite of a 2012 court ruling against such a division.
The 2012 court decision specifically said that the areas were “more appropriately placed entirely within” the same district.
Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper agreed, calling the map passed over the veto of Gov. Laura Kelly earlier this year to be “motivated at least in part by an intent to dilute minority voting strength.”
“The court has no difficulty finding, as a factual matter, that ‘Ad Astra 2’ is an intentional, effective pro-Republican gerrymander that systemically dilutes the votes of Democratic Kansans,” Klapper said.
He went on to say it “intentionally and effectively dilutes minority votes in violation of the Kansas Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”
Klapper’s 209-page ruling is the first time a Kansas judge has applied the state constitution to congressional redistricting. It is almost certain to be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.
The state has consistently argued that it would be improper for the courts to second-guess the Legislature, arguing the U.S. Constitution endows that body — not state courts — with the power to draw new lines.
But Klapper rejected that argument, citing a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that he said uphold a state court’s right to review the lines when a dispute arises.
“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,” Klapper wrote.
“This decision is a victory for Kansans across the state, who raised their voices demanding a fair congressional map, and were ignored by their Republican-led Legislature,” said Marina Jenkins, director of Litigation and Policy for the National Redistricting Foundation, in a written statement.
“The court rightfully halted a map that would have diminished the ability of many Kansas voters, but particularly the state’s voters of color, to participate in the democratic process and elect members of Congress who accurately represent their communities,” she continued. “Republicans underestimated the tenacity of Kansans and our preparedness to fight against their extreme gerrymander.”
Sharon Brett, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, one of several parties to the litigation against the map, also applauded the ruling.
“We are thankful that Judge Klapper saw this map for what it was — a deliberate attempt to silence the political voices of Democratic and minority Kansans,” she said in a statement. “Although we know this case is not over yet, we look forward to settling this issue and securing the rights of our clients in the Kansas Supreme Court.”
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