In a rebuke to Democrats and Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS), the Kansas Supreme Court is backing a new congressional map drawn by Republicans. The ruling reverses a lower court decision that tossed the map over allegations of gerrymandering.
Kelly vetoed the map last winter alleging, without proof, that it discriminated against minority voters in the 3rd District. The Republican-led state legislature overrode her veto saying that shifting population patterns in the state made the map more representative of all voters.
Democrats will have an uphill battle in the 3rd Congressional district keeping liberal Democrat Rep. Sharice Davids in power. Davids has voted in lockstep with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, even while the district, which encompasses the Kansas Suburbs of Kansas City, is considered more moderate. She narrowly defeated Republican Kevin Yoder in 2018 in a race that saw most local news outlets bury allegations of her residency and questions concerning her law license.
The ruling, by a liberal court, puts Democrats at an even greater disadvantage in a year when Republicans are expected to sweep back into office during the 2022 midterms.
“A majority of the court holds that, on the record before us, plaintiffs have not prevailed on their claims that Substitute for Senate Bill 355 violates the Kansas Constitution. Therefore, the judgment of the district court is reversed and the permanent injunction ordered by the district court is lifted,” the court wrote.
A strange lower court ruling last month deemed the map an “intentional, effective partisan gerrymander” and ordered the legislature to go back to the drawing board. The judge in the case gave a convoluted ruling that evoked Buddha and had many scratching their heads. Now, the state’s highest court says Republicans and their map did not violate the state’s constitution.
The decision clarifies district lines for congressional contenders ahead of the June 10 filing deadline for prospective candidates. Democrat Tom Sawyer, the minority leader of the Kansas House, quickly condemned the ruling.
“Because the court ruled the Kansas Constitution was not violated, this decision makes clear it’s time for an amendment that clarifies gerrymandering is unconstitutional and prohibited in the state. I call on my colleagues to bring a constitutional amendment to the ballot on this issue,” he said.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement that his office “successfully defended” Kansans and “the public’s right to establish new districts through their elected representatives.”
“It is regrettable that Kansas taxpayers have had to bear the unnecessary cost of successfully defending the duly enacted congressional reapportionment against multiple lawsuits backed by out-of-state activists,” Schmidt said.
Republicans currently hold three of the state’s four congressional seats. The map, named Ad Astra 2, divides the Wyandotte County for the first time in 40 years, per the Kansas City Star. The shift of voters was a result of having to keep each district at the population level outlined in the constitution.
A lawsuit against the map was filed on behalf of Kansans who alleged the map diminished the voting power of minorities. The Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday is its first in a case over gerrymandering and sets a precedent for similar cases in the future, KCUR reported. Previous disputes over congressional apportionment in the state had been handled by federal courts.
With Kansas’s congressional map reenacted, there are only three remaining states without legally binding congressional lines, including Missouri, New Hampshire, and New York. Roughly a dozen states have litigation pending over their maps. The redistricting effort in Missouri pitted party establishment Republicans against conservatives who wanted to make the state’s two Democrat-held districts more competitive.
Democrats started the new year with a flurry of redistricting triumphs in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. But Republicans steadily gained the upper hand, securing breakthrough victories in Florida and, more recently, in New York. The party is now poised to gain three to four congressional seats from redistricting, according to several estimates.
Polls show Democrats could face their biggest election night loss in three decades.
–Wire services, Metro Voice and Washington Free Beacon