Plaintiffs Challenging Kansas’ Congressional District Boundaries File Appeal To U.S. Supreme Court
On November 23, 2022, the plaintiffs in Alonzo v. Schwab filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). The petition—which asks SCOTUS to hear the case— challenges the Kansas Supreme Court’s May 2022 decision upholding that state’s congressional redistricting plan.
The petitioners allege that the Kansas Supreme Court erroneously ruled “that intentional racial discrimination in redistricting is unconstitutional only if it prevents the formation of a majority-minority district.” The petition also states that “The court did not disagree with the district court’s factual finding, based upon substantial evidence, that the Legislature split Wyandotte County (home to Kansas City) along starkly racial lines in order to eliminate the ability of minority voters to continue electing their preferred candidate; the court simply held that it was irrelevant because those voters were insufficiently numerous to constitute a majority-minority district.”
According to Politico, the state’s attorneys also argued that nothing in the Kansas Constitution allows state courts — rather than federal courts — to review congressional maps or to consider political gerrymandering as an issue. Federal judges have decided challenges to congressional redistricting in the past, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.
On June 21, 2022, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned a state district court’s decision that had found that the state’s congressional district boundaries were unconstitutional. The state supreme court’s order said, “The record below demonstrates that plaintiffs did not ask the district court to apply the correct applicable legal tests to their race-based claims. The district court, in turn, did not apply these legal tests to plaintiffs’ race-based claims. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the district court did not make the requisite fact-findings to satisfy either legal test applicable to plaintiffs’ race-based equal protection claims. Therefore, on the record before us, plaintiffs have failed to satisfy their burden to meet the legal elements required for a showing of unlawful racial gerrymandering or unlawful race-based vote dilution.”
On April 25, 2022, Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper struck down Kansas’ enacted congressional map. The judge’s ruling stated, “The Court has no difficulty finding, as a factual matter, that Ad Astra 2 is an intentional, effective pro-Republican gerrymander that systemically dilutes the votes of Democratic Kansans.” Klapper’s opinion also said that the state’s new district boundaries “intentionally and effectively dilutes minority votes in violation of the Kansas Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”
According to the Kansas Reflector, the justices conducted oral argument on an appeal by Attorney General Derek Schmidt of a Wyandotte County District Court judge’s April opinion the map transferring liberal-leaning Lawrence from the 2nd District to the 1st District and splitting the Democratic stronghold of Wyandotte County between the 2nd and 3rd districts was unconstitutional.
Justice Caleb Stegall, in a two-page ruling, said the majority of the state’s highest court held Senate Bill 355 didn’t violate the state constitution.
“Therefore, the judgment of the district court is reversed, and the permanent injunction ordered by the district court is lifted,” Stegall said in the order.
Klapper ruled on a case that resulted from the consolidation of three lawsuits challenging congressional district boundaries that were enacted when the legislature overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D) veto on February 9, 2022. The House of Representatives overrode Kelly’s veto 85-37, with all votes in favor by Republicans, and 36 Democrats and one Republican voting to sustain the veto. The Senate overrode Kelly’s veto 27-11 strictly along party lines, with all votes in favor by Republicans and all votes opposed by Democrats.
After the legislature overrode Kelly’s veto, Andrew Bahl of the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote that the “maps were hotly contested, largely for the decision to split Wyandotte County and put part of the Kansas City, Kan., area in the 2nd Congressional District, a move that endangers the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, and, Democrats argue, unfairly divides minority communities.”
Davids defeated Amanda Adkins (R) and Steve Hohe (L) in the November 8, 2022, general election for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, receiving 55% of the vote. Davids was first elected to the U.S. House in 2018 and was one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, alongside former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).
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Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond