Kansas Supreme Court upholds congressional map that splits diverse Wyandotte County

·6 min read
Thad Allton/For the Kansas Reflector

The Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Republican-drawn congressional map that divides racially diverse Wyandotte County, a blow to Democrats who argued the redrawn lines diluted minority voter power.

The decision means Wyandotte County, a Democratic stronghold, will be split between two districts— with the northern half almost certainly represented by a Republican and the south included in a reshaped 3rd District that incumbent Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids will struggle to hold.

The decision comes as Democrats nationally are heading into a tough election cycle and will have difficulty retaining their thin House majority. The new 3rd District is nearly certain to boost the prospects of Amanda Adkins, a former state GOP party chair who is Davids’ likely general election opponent. Davids defeated Adkins in 2020 by 10 points.

The map divides Wyandotte County, the state’s most ethnically and racially diverse area, roughly along I-70. While voters south of the highway will stay in the district held by Davids, voters in the north will be in the 2nd District, held by Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner.

In addition to losing Democratic voters from northern Wyandotte County, the 3rd District now includes the conservative rural counties of Franklin and Anderson, and all of rural Miami County. Previously, only a portion of Miami County was in the district.

The 3rd District will become more competitive under the redrawn map. Davids won re-election in 2020 with 53.62% of the vote. The Campaign Legal Center predicts the district will still lean Democratic, but the exclusion of Democrats in northern Wyandotte County and the inclusion of Republican voters from rural counties is likely to tighten the race.

Liberal-leaning Lawrence will also move from the 2nd District, which has been competitive in the past, into the heavily Republican 1st District, which spans western Kansas. That will put the University of Kansas campus in the same district as towns along the Colorado border.

New Kansas voting map splits up Wyandotte County. What it means for you at the polls

Ruling reverses lower court’s decision

Groups of voters from Wyandotte, Johnson and Douglas counties had challenged the map, arguing it violated the Kansas Constitution’s protections for free speech, the right to vote and equal protection. But the Kansas Supreme Court ruled they hadn’t prevailed.

“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,” the opinion says.

The court lifted an injunction preventing the map from going into effect that had been issued by Wyandotte County District Court Bill Klapper, an elected Democratic judge who had found the map unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court decision overturning Klapper was two pages long and written by Justice Caleb Stegall, the sole appointee of former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback who is seen as one of the more conservative members of the court. A majority of the court was appointed by Democratic governors.

A full opinion will come later, the decision said.

Kansas Congressional map

Kansas lawmakers approved a congressional map that splits Wyandotte County along Interstate 70. Type in your address in the search bar to see where you live within the districts.

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The decision didn’t indicate whether any justices dissented.

Klapper had ruled that the division of Wyandotte County amounted to the intentional dilution of the voting power of racial minorities. He had written that the record leading up the map’s passage reflected “a single-minded desire to maximize Republican advantage.”

The Kansas Supreme Court, in rejecting the challenge to the map, also dealt a blow to gerrymandering opponents who had hoped the court would place limits on the practice. While federal lawsuits have been brought against congressional maps in Kansas in the past, never before had the state’s highest court ruled on whether a map was unconstitutional under the Kansas Constitution.

By contrast, the decision comes after New York’s highest court last month rejected a Democratic-drawn map that would have improved the party’s chances in the state.

“The clear message from the Supreme Court is our state constitution and laws do not protect minority voters,” KS Fair Maps, an advocacy group opposing gerrymandering, said in a statement. “The results of this map will be felt in Topeka and D.C. for the next ten years, and the interests of Kansans will suffer for it. This process needs to be corrected and taken out of the hands of politicians moving forward.”

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Amanda Adkins and Sharice Davids react to new congressional map

In a statement released by her campaign, Davids said she looked forward to introducing herself to the new voters in the 3rd District. At the same time, she slammed how the Legislature had developed the map.

“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.

Adkins said the map is evidence the democratic process worked.

“I welcome the people of Anderson, Franklin, and southern Miami counties to KS-03 and am excited to get to work for the new district, a thriving community of urban, suburban, and rural areas,” she said in a statement.

Democrats quickly reacted with disappointment and anger. Kansas Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said that while she respected the court’s decision, she said Republicans had ignored and “gaslit” voters throughout the redistricting process. Democrats have complained the map was drawn in secret, with public input ignored.

“While that isn’t unconstitutional, it is unacceptable,” Sykes said in a statement.

State Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said the court showed a “level of unawareness” and called the decision “very partisan.”

“I wish we had time to have a further review to the U.S. Supreme Court. Obviously we do not,” Haley said, effectively conceding the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision would stand.

Court victory for Kansas Republicans

Republicans have consistently defended the map. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office had argued that redistricting was a political question best left to lawmakers and that the state constitution contained no prohibitions against gerrymandering.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican and candidate for governor, had told reporters on Monday that opponents of the map sued in state court because they knew they would have lost in federal court. After the decision Wednesday, he said the decision confirmed the map was constitutionally sound.

“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,” Schmidt said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, which had represented some of the voters, expressed disappointment and predicted long-term consequences stemming from the decision.

“This will have ripple effects for elections for years to come, and tells entire categories of voters in the state that their rights under our state constitution are meaningless,” Brett said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday also unanimously upheld redrawn state House and Senate districts. By Kansas law, the justices are required to review those maps.

Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, had challenged the state Senate map because it placed him in competition with a incumbent Republican state Sen. Beverly Gossage.

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