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Race wasn't an obvious factor in the new Kansas congressional map, state's high court says

Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall speaks from the bench.
Thad Allton
/
The Kansas Reflector
Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall authored the court's ruling that upheld the state's congressional redistricting map despite claims it was racially and politically gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

In a full ruling released Tuesday, the court explained why it upheld the Kansas congressional redistricting map despite claims it was racially and politically gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

The Kansas Supreme Court found that civil rights groups challenging the state’s new congressional map failed to prove Republicans used race as a predominant factor in the redrawing of districts.

The court also said that the Kansas Constitution lets lawmakers consider partisanship when drawing new district maps for elections.

In May, the court tossed out a challenge to the map. It released its full reasoning in the ruling made public on Tuesday. The court said the arguments for ditching the map were anchored in legally untested ideas that politicians couldn’t draw maps to benefit a particular political party.

“Plaintiffs put their proverbial eggs in an uncertain and untested basket of novel state-based claims, hoping to discover that the Kansas Constitution would prove amenable,” the court said in the ruling. “But the constitutional text and our longstanding historical precedent foreclose those claims.”

The map, now in place for the next 10 years, helps Republicans trying to maintain, or even increase, their hold over the state’s congressional delegation. In particular, it threatens Democrats’ ability to hold the Kansas City area seat and the reelection of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the sole Democrat from Kansas in Congress.

Kansas courts had never previously heard a case on whether gerrymandering violates the state constitution. It now sets a standard for how far one political party in Kansas can gerrymander congressional districts.

The court previously announced its ruling to uphold the congressional in a short decision released in May, but did not include a full explanation. The high court’s decision reversed a ruling from a Wyandotte County district court judge, who found that the map was unconstitutional because it was politically and racially gerrymandered.

The plan split racially diverse Wyandotte County into two separate districts and shifted left-leaning Lawrence into the largely rural, Republican-dominated 1st Congressional District.

Critics of the plan said those moves diluted the power of Democratic voting blocs and would make it harder for Davids to win re-election. Republican lawmakers who crafted the map said the changes to the districts were needed because of population shifts in Kansas.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

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