The brief decision was drafted by Justice Caleb Stegall, considered the most conservative of the court’s seven justices, five of whom were appointed by Democratic governors. During the lawyers’ arguments on Monday, he questioned whether anyone could clearly define partisan manipulation.
Demands over new congressional district lines have proliferated across the US, with Republicans seeking to regain a majority in the US House of Representatives in this year’s midterm elections. Congressional maps in at least 17 states have inspired lawsuits, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.
In the past, congressional district boundaries have been reviewed by federal judges and not by the state Supreme Court. The conservative-leaning US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2019 that partisan manipulation complaints are political issues and not for federal courts to resolve.
The Republican-appointed state attorney general argued in defending the Republican map that because the state constitution does not specifically mention voter rigging or congressional redistricting, the Kansas Supreme Court should reject legal challenges. . He and other state officials said the justices had no guidance on how to define inappropriate political manipulation.
“It is the elected legislators who are best positioned to determine how to balance competing interests,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, told reporters after the state Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday.
Democrats argued that the map was drawn to help Republicans unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids in the Kansas City-area 3rd District and that it diluted the political clout of Black and Latino voters. . Twenty voters and a voting rights group, Loud Light, filed three lawsuits that were consolidated into one, and a lower court sided with them.
State Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Kansas City-area Democrat, said Republicans “disrespected, ignored and criticized committed voters from the start.”
And House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Democrat from Wichita, added: “The congressional map decision opens a Pandora’s box for even worse political manipulations in the future.”
State courts have ruled in favor of Democrats in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. New York’s Supreme Court recently ruled that New York’s new districts were rigged to favor Democrats.
The Kansas lawsuits argued that the state’s bill of rights prohibits partisan gerrymandering by declaring that “free governments” are formed for the “equal protection and benefits” of the people and that state residents have “equal natural rights and inalienable” which include, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The state Supreme Court also cited that latter provision in 2019 in declaring access to abortion a “fundamental” right in Kansas.
Republican legislative leaders argued that based on the 2020 election results, Davids could still win his new district. They said her map was a fair way to rebalance the population in each of the state’s congressional districts to be as equal as possible after 10 years of changing demographics.
The map moved the northern portion of Kansas City, Kansas, out of the 3rd district represented by Davids and into the 2nd largest district in eastern Kansas represented by Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner. Kansas City, Kansas, is among the few Democratic strongholds in the Republican-leaning state. Davids lost territory where he performs well, while the new map added several heavily Republican rural counties to his district.
The map also moved the liberal northeastern Kansas city of Lawrence, a Democratic stronghold that is home to the main campus of the University of Kansas and is just 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Kansas City, out of the 2nd District. Instead, the city of 95,000 has been added to the already sprawling 1st Ward, which is dominated by small conservative communities in central and western Kansas.
The lower court’s ruling relied heavily on the testimony of a University of Michigan political scientist who used a computer algorithm to produce 1,000 alternative redistricting plans to conclude that the new districts “are extreme pro-Republican partisan outliers.” .
In a separate ruling, the state Supreme Court also upheld maps drawn by Republicans for legislative districts that are expected to retain GOP outright majorities in both chambers.