© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas redistricting map dilutes voices of minority voters, ACLU charges in newly filed lawsuit

redistricting.jfif
Blaise Mesa
/
Kansas News Service
Lawmakers leave the Kansas House chamber after voting to override the governor's veto of the redistricting plan.

The GOP-dominated Kansas House last week voted mostly along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the map, which draws districts for the state’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A legal challenge filed Monday to the controversial congressional redistricting plan passed by the Kansas Legislature calls it an attempt to dilute the voices of minority voters and requests that a Wyandotte County judge to strike it down.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of 11 Kansas residents by the ACLU of Kansas, the Campaign Legal Center and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, a multinational law firm based in Washington, D.C., asserts that the congressional map constitutes illegal partisan gerrymandering and violates the U.S. and Kansas constitutions.

The GOP-dominated Kansas House last week voted mostly along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the map, which draws districts for the state’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats say the plan dilutes the votes of people of color in an effort to defeat the state’s lone Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Sharice Davids, who represents the 3rd Congressional District. The district currently comprises all of Johnson and Wyandotte counties and parts of Miami County.

The map approved by the Legislature favors Republicans by cleaving the Kansas City metro in two along Interstate 70, placing the northern half of Wyandotte County in the 2nd Congressional District. Wyandotte County is the only predominately minority county in the state and votes reliably Democratic.

The map also carves out Lawrence from Douglas County and places it in the 1st Congressional District. Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, also leans heavily Democratic.

“This gerrymandered map is not only unfair and wrong; it violates the Kansas Constitution,” the lawsuit alleges. “When voters are classified and sorted into districts based on their political beliefs to minimize the minority party’s electoral influence, their treatment is not ‘equal.’”

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said the map "essentially says that, based on race and based on party, some people should count less, that they should be excluded from the process, that they should have their voice diminished and devalued.”

In her veto of the map on Feb. 3, Kelly said it would move 46% of the 3rd District’s Black population and 33% of its Latino population into the 2nd District.

The Legislature passed the map on Feb. 9 in a process that the lawsuit says “ignored public input and ran roughshod over ordinary legislative procedures.”

“This map is the product of a rushed legislative process that ignored the expressed concerns of hundreds of Kansans who spoke out at town halls and during hearings,” Sharon Brett, legal director of ACLU of Kansas, said in a written statement. “It is a brazen attempt to drown the political voices of Black, urban voters in a sea of white, rural voters for partisan gain.”

The Kansas House of Representatives overrode Kelly’s veto by a vote of 85-37, with all the votes in favor cast by Republicans. Thirty-six Democrats and one Republican voted to sustain the veto. The Senate overrode Kelly’s veto 27-11 along strict party lines.

The legal challenge, which was expected, marks the second time in a decade that a Kansas redistricting map has ended up in court. In 2012, the Legislature was unable to agree on a map and the current districts were drawn by a panel of federal judges.

The plaintiffs in the action filed Monday include seven residents of Kansas City, Kansas, three residents of Overland Park and a resident of Lawrence. Four of the plaintiffs are Black, five are white and two are Latino. The suit names two defendants: Scott Schwab, who, as Kansas secretary of state, is the state’s chief election officer; and Wyandotte County Election Commissioner Michael Abbott.

Kansas neither gained nor lost seats — it has four — in the most recent round of reapportionment based on the 2020 U.S. Census. Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita area Republican, justified the redistricting by saying that most of the state’s population growth occurred in the Kansas City area, making it impossible to keep all of Wyandotte and Johnson counties together.

Kansas’ congressional delegation consists of three Republicans and one Democrat, Davids, roughly in line with the state’s political makeup, as the lawsuit notes. Davids is serving her second term, defeating Amanda Adkins, her Republican challenger, by 10% in 2020. She unseated incumbent Kevin Yoder by a similar margin in 2018.

Davids is the second Native American in the U.S. House and the first openly LGBTQ Native American in Congress.

Kubic called the new redistricting map "self-evidently absurd," noting that it extends all the way from western Kansas to Lawrence to create one district and slices Wyandotte County in half.

"It doesn't make any sense from a community perspective, from a community of interest, from the way that folks interact and work with one another," he said.

"The only reason to cut Wyandotte County in half is to have a racial and partisan gerrymander. "

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.