Kansas Supreme Court delivers a 'slap in the face to voters'

Voting rights advocates expressed anger and disappointment Wednesday after the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the state's new Republican-drawn congressional map despite claims of partisan and racial gerrymandering.

"As a result of this decision, minority voters and Democratic voters will have their voices diluted for the next 10 years."

KS Fair Maps, a coalition advocating for fair redistricting, said in a statement that state residents "were let down" by the decision, and that "this entire legislative process illustrates just what is wrong with Kansas politics right now—it was rushed, secretive, supported the agenda of one party, and dismissed the very valid and public concerns of Kansans."

"The fact that it also blatantly discriminated against minority voters is also indicative of the way our politicians prioritize some Kansans over others," the coalition continued. "The clear message from the Supreme Court is our state constitution and laws do not protect minority voters."

Warning that "the results of this map will be felt in Topeka and D.C. for the next 10 years, and the interest of Kansans will suffer for it," the coalition concluded that "this process needs to be corrected and taken out of the hands of politicians moving forward."

A brief opinion that offered little in the way of legal reasoning, penned by Justice Caleb Stegall, a right-wing member of the high court, states that those challenging the map "have not prevailed on their claims" that the boundaries violated the state constitution and a full opinion is forthcoming.

Wednesday's decision overturns a previous one from Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper, who ruled that the state constitution protects against rigging the map to divide communities and color and wrote that "this court suggests most Kansans would be appalled to know how the contest has been artificially engineered to give one segment of the political apparatus an unfair and unearned advantage."

The Kansas map could impact the reelection chances of Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, who represents the 3rd District, in a cycle when fears are mounting that the party could lose its slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives amid a "tidal wave" of GOP voter suppression efforts.

As The Kansas City Star detailed:

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 newspaper noted that "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."

Paul Smith, senior vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, said Wednesday that "the Kansas Supreme Court's reversal of the lower court's decision is a slap in the face to voters and runs afoul of the democratic values spelled out in Kansas' own constitution."

"The Kansas Legislature crafted gerrymandered maps that purposefully divide Kansans based on their race and political views to serve their political interests instead of the community's needs," he said, vowing that the group "will continue fighting for fair maps, because Kansas voters deserve to choose their politicians instead of the other way around."

Leaders at the ACLU of Kansas made similar pledges, with legal director Sharon Brett vowing that the organization "will never stop fighting for the rights of all Kansans, and this decision won't change that fact."

"We're obviously very disappointed for our clients," she said. "Equal protection under our state's constitution is supposed to mean something. But as a result of this decision, minority voters and Democratic voters will have their voices diluted for the next 10 years."

ACLU of Kansas executive director Micah Kubic echoed the promise to keep up the fight while also pointing out that "this case is only one skirmish in the wholesale assault on democracy in Kansas and around the country."

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that "congressional maps in at least 17 states have inspired lawsuits" and while New York's high court recently found that its new districts were rigged to benefit Democratic candidates, state courts have issued decisions against maps favoring the GOP in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

"Although today's ruling is disappointing, we will continue to use every ounce of energy we've got to defend democracy and protect our shared values," said Kubic. "In defending democracy and our values, we don't give up, we don't give out, and we don't give in. As politicians in Kansas continue to try to denigrate our democracy, the ACLU, our supporters, and our partners will be there to stand in their way."