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Kansas Supreme Court upholds state, congressional redistricting maps

The Kansas Supreme Court has made a decision on redistricting maps
The Kansas Supreme Court has made a decision on redistricting maps
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 10:43 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Kansas Supreme Court has decided that redistricting maps brought before it for the Sunflower State were completely legal and valid.

In the matter of state senatorial, representative and board of education redistricting plans, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt called on the Court to decide the legality of Substitute for Senate Bill 563.

SB 563 proposes a new state senatorial (liberty three), representative (free state 3F) and board of education (apple 7) redistricting plan. It was passed by the House with an 83-40 vote and the Senate with a 29-11 vote. The bill was approved by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly on April 25.

The three maps are based on data from the 2020 Census.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Caleb Stegall, the Court said it upheld the validity of Substitute for SB 563 and a full opinion with facts and rationale would be forthcoming.

“I’m happy to see the Court agreed with the Legislature that the Kansas House maps are fair,” said House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita). “They were passed with wide bipartisan support and that is reflected in the Court’s opinion.”

Also on Wednesday, in the case over Substitute for Senate Bill 355, - which proposes the Ad Astra 2 Congressional Redistricting Map - the Court said it had also held the legislation did not violate the constitution.

SB 355 was passed by the Senate with a 26-9 vote. When it entered the House it was packed with amendments and passed with a 79-37 vote.

However, in February, Gov. Kelly vetoed the legislation. At first, the Senate failed to override the veto, but a motion to reconsider was adopted and the Senate voted to override the veto with a 27-11 vote. The House also voted to override the veto with an 85-37 vote.

The bill then spent about three months in the court system which was brought to an end with Wednesday’s decision.

In a majority opinion written by Justice Stegall, the Court said the plaintiffs had not prevailed on their claims that the map violates the state constitution. Therefore, it said it reversed the district court decision and lifted the permanent injunction which had been ordered.

“Today’s decisions confirm that the legislative and congressional reapportionments of Kansas enacted by the Legislature this year are constitutionally sound,” said AG Schmidt. “We have successfully defended every Kansan’s right to equal protection of the law in exercising their right to vote, as well as 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. I am grateful for the expeditious manner in which the court announced the outcome of the cases, and this year’s candidate filings and election preparations can now proceed.”

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover), Vice President Rick Wilborn (R-McPherson), and Majority Leader Larry Alley (R-Winfield) said the move recognizes the appropriate separation of powers.

“We are extremely grateful for this ruling and are appreciative that the majority of the Kansas Supreme Court, led by Justice Luckert, recognizes the appropriate separation of powers and the role of the Kansas Legislature to enact policy,” the Sens. said. “In this case, following a lengthy and deliberative process, the legislature listened and took input from Kansans and enacted a set of maps that are fair for all and are consistent with the historically recognized redistricting guidelines.”

The Ad Astra Map has been widely contested and many have called it a gerrymandered map. While not unconstitutional, Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes (D-Lenexa) called it unacceptable.

“Legislators take an oath to uphold our state constitution when we assume office. While today’s Supreme Court decision is disappointing, I respect the unprecedented nature of this case and the court’s position on the legislative outcome,” Sykes said. “But make no mistake: this process did not serve the Kansans we are elected to represent. Kansas Republicans disrespected, ignored, and gaslit engaged voters from the very start. While that isn’t unconstitutional, it is unacceptable. Kansans should continue to hold legislative leadership to task for their consistent refusal to accept that, despite their best efforts, our residents are not a monolith and have a different vision for our state from the GOP’s. Continuing to engage with the legislative process and challenging these leaders is integral to ensuring our democracy is not further eroded by the party in charge.”

Sawyer warned the decision could open “pandora’s box” and called for constitutional amendments to protect Kansans’ voting rights.

“Unfortunately, the decision regarding Congressional maps opens a pandora’s box for even worse political gerrymandering in the future. Lawrence does not belong in the Big First and Wyandotte should not have been split,” he said. “Residents of western Kansas, Lawrence, and Wyandotte all agreed on this throughout the redistricting process and made this clear to the Joint Redistricting Committee. The voters in Lawrence and Wyandotte will be silenced by this decision.”

“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,” Sawyer concluded.

U.S. Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS), who could be largely affected by the new congressional map, said she hopes the decision does not make Kansans believe their voices do not matter.

“From rushed hearings to backroom deals for votes, the redistricting process did not instill a sense of transparency or confidence in the people of Kansas. I hope that although many feel their voice was not heard, they do not feel as though their voice does not matter,” Davids said. “I look forward to introducing myself to the new voters in the Third District, continuing my work to find common ground and tackle the everyday issues facing our community, and showing all Kansans that to me, their voice matters.”

To read the full decision for state maps, click HERE.

To read the full decision for the congressional map, click HERE.

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