Kansas Supreme Court set for high-stakes oral argument on legislative, congressional maps

Justices obliged to review state House, Senate maps; U.S. House map is on appeal

By: - May 15, 2022 3:39 pm
The Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday in a legal dispute about how Johnson County appraised for property tax purposes Walmart and Sam's Club retail stores. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Supreme Court website)

The Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday in a legal dispute about how Johnson County appraised for property tax purposes Walmart and Sam’s Club retail stores. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Supreme Court website)

TOPEKA — League of Women Voters co-president Martha Pint wants the Kansas Supreme Court to declare new district boundary maps for the Legislature’s House and Senate districts a violation of the Kansas Constitution.

Pint, in preparation of the Supreme Court’s oral argument Monday on the maps, said the Legislature allocated 125 House districts and 40 Senate districts in ways that intentionally fractured neighborhoods with high racial and ethnic minorities and purposefully weakened minority voting strength in Wichita, Olathe, Leavenworth and Kansas City, Kansas.

She said state lawmakers also violated redistricting guidelines while constructing maps based on Kansas population shifts chronicled in the 2020 U.S. Census.

“These maps do not adhere to the principles adopted and we ask the Kansas Supreme Court to consider the process behind the creation of the maps as integral to the final product,” Pint said. “Truly representative districts are vital at all levels of government and Kansans deserve a fair process.”

Under the state Constitution, the Legislature must produce every 10 years updated maps for the Kansas House, Kansas Senate, Kansas Board of Education as well as the state’s four U.S. House districts.

The Kansas Supreme Court will review state House and Senate maps contained in Senate Bill 563 in response to a petition filed April 25 by Attorney General Derek Schmidt. The Supreme Court is required to issue an opinion on the legislative maps within 30 days of Schmidt’s initial filing.

Schmidt, who is a candidate for governor, recommended the Supreme Court validate the legislative maps. The candidate filing deadline is typically June 1, but the court’s rejection of the maps could force a postponement to buy time for the Legislature to redraw the maps or take other legal action. The statewide primary election is Aug. 2.

Schmidt filed a response to written comments on legislative maps submitted to the Supreme Court from “any interested person.” In Schmidt’s rebuttal submitted to the Supreme Court, the attorney general dismissed some criticism as “irrelevant” or unworthy of a reply.

He did answer complaints raised about the Legislature’s alleged political gerrymandering, dilution of minority voting and targeting of incumbents.

“Anyone who believes a redistricting map is unfair or dissatisfying in some respect can claim gerrymandering, but there is no legal standard to measure such claims,” Schmidt said. “Entertaining political gerrymandering claims would require this court to substitute its political judgment for that of the Legislature and plunge this court into a political morass.”

Schmidt said individuals claiming impermissible voter dilution along racial lines provided “no evidence” to the Supreme Court. He said redistricting inevitably had political consequences, including pitting incumbents against each other. One such person, Democratic Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City was placed in a new district where he’d have to run in 2024 against incumbent Republican Sen. Beverly Gossage of Eudora. Holland filed a brief challenging the Senate map.

Other comments submitted to the Supreme Court in objection to the House and Senate maps delved into the Legislature’s bipartisan public listening tour in 2021, the Legislature’s guidelines for mapping decisions, compactness of new legislative districts and the undermining of communities of interest.

Schmidt said no legal deficiency was identified in terms of the Legislature’s tour of more than a dozen communities to gather public input. Redistricting guidelines were the work of an “advisory group” and the Legislature wasn’t required to adhere to any of those ideas, he said.

“The guidelines are not law,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt argued the Supreme Court had no role in reviewing House and Senate maps in terms of splitting communities of economic, political, social or geographic interest. Supreme Court precedent, he said, indicated “the fact that someone who may have drawn different lines does not render a map invalid.”

In addition to oral argument Monday on state House and Senate maps, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument in the attorney general’s appeal of a Wyandotte County District Court judge’s ruling that the congressional map was unconstitutional.

Twenty people filed lawsuits challenging the congressional map. Some objected to shifting half of Wyandotte County out of the metropolitan 3rd District and placing it in the 2nd District extending from Nebraska to Oklahoma. The map pulled Lawrence out of the 2nd District and inserted it into the rural 1st District that crosses the state to the Colorado border.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert set argument on the Legislature’s reapportionment of state Senate and House districts for 9 a.m. Monday and argument on the congressional map at 1:30 p.m. Monday. The sessions will be livestreamed on www.youtube.com/kansassupremecourt.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.