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Redistricting fight: Kansas Supreme Court reverses Ad Astra 2 injunction

Congressional map splits WyCo, Douglas counties
Kansas Supreme Court
Posted at 10:41 AM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 15:51:08-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two days after hearing oral arguments in a trio of combined cases challenging the Kansas legislature’s Ad Astra 2 map, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed a Wyandotte County District Court judge’s decision that declared the map unconstitutional.

According to a syllabus posted Wednesday morning summarizing the high court’s decision, the Ad Astra 2 map “is held not to violate the Kansas Constitution.”

The decision — a full opinion of which is forthcoming — lifts the injunction on implementing the maps, which determine the boundaries for Kansas’ four U.S. congressional districts to determine members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“While the outcome of today’s Supreme Court decision is disappointing, I respect the Court’s ruling," Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement. "This decision should not discourage Kansans from making their voices heard in the electoral process. I also call on legislative leaders from both parties to work together to ensure that future redistricting processes are transparent and empower Kansans to hold their elected leaders accountable. I’ve previously advocated for the convening of a nonpartisan voting commission to oversee the redistricting process — there’s no better time to do that than right now.”

The high court's decision means for the next 10 years until redistricting is undertaken again after the 2030 U.S. Census, Wyandotte County will be split in half and Lawrence will be separated from the rest of Douglas County when voting for federal legislators.

“Today’s decisions confirm that the legislative and congressional reapportionments of Kansas enacted by the Legislature this year are constitutionally sound," Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement. "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, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, also thanked the Kansas Supreme Court "for the expeditious manner in which the court announced the outcome," noting that "candidate filings and election preparations can now proceed."

Not everyone agreed with the decision, including Rep. Sharice Davids, a Wyandotte County Democrat and the current 3rd District representative from Kansas.

She chastised the lack of transparency in the redistricting process, adding: "I hope that although many feel their voice was not heard, they do not feel as though their voice does not matter. I look forward to introducing myself to the new voters in the Third District, continuing my work to find common ground and tackle the everyday issues facing our community, and showing all Kansans that to me, their voice matters."

Davids' projected opponent in the November general election, former Cerner executive Amanda Adkins, also issued a statement.

“The map released today is evidence that our democratic process works,” Adkins, who lost to Davids in 2020 and is running again, said. “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. ”

The three cases — Faith Rivera, et al, vs. Scott Scwab; Tom Alonzo, et al, vs. Scott Schwab; and Susan Frick, et al, vs. Scott Schwab — challenged the newly drawn congressional districts on grounds that it violated the Kansas Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Wyandotte County Judge Bill Klapper’s decision declared the map to be a clear example of gerrymandering and sided with the plaintiffs, who argued that it targeted minority Democratic voters and diluted their ability to participate equally in the election process.

“We’re obviously very disappointed for our clients,” said Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and one of the lawyers who argued Monday on behalf of plaintiffs. “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 ten years. The ACLU of Kansas will never stop fighting for the rights of all Kansans, and this decision won’t change that fact.”

The GOP-controlled Kansas legislature, which passed the Ad Astra 2 map in late January, overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto, setting up the court battle.

Ad Astra 2 Redistricting Map

The map splits Wyandotte County roughly along Interstate 70, moving voters in northern parts of the county out of the 3rd District to the 2nd District.

Ad Astra 2 also splits Lawrence from Douglas County, carving out Lawrence from the 2nd District and adding it to “the Big First.”

The 1st District in Kansas includes most of western and north-central Kansas and is widely considered a Republican stronghold, while Lawrence — where the University of Kansas is located — is one of the state’s Democratic strongholds.

Kansas House Republican leadership — Speaker Ron Ryckman from Olathe, Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch from Ottawa and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins from Wichita — praised the court's decision:

“We were pleased to see the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court today upholding the redistricting maps drawn by the people’s legislature. The court recognized what we have said all along, these maps are the result of a fair, open and thorough process based on public input and grounded in constitutional principles. We thank Attorney General Schmidt for his work in diligently representing the will of the people as expressed in the maps.”

“We are disappointed that the Kansas Supreme Court has decided to uphold a map that creates an artificial advantage for the Republican Party at the expense of Kansas voters — particularly voters of color," said Marina Jenkins, the director of litigation and policy for the National Redistricting Foundation.

The NRF is a Democrat-backed nonprofit that litigates voting rights cases, including instances of gerrymandering that it opposes.

Jenkins took issue with the process for drawing the map.

"To add insult to injury, it led to a map that diminishes the voting power of communities of color—communities that drove population growth in the state," she continued in her statement. "This is not the result the voters of Kansas deserved."

The candidate filing deadline is June 1 in Kansas ahead of the Aug. 2 primary.

Anticipating the possibility that the Kansas Supreme Court would invalidate the maps, the Kansas Legislature announced plans last month to reconvene on Monday, May 23.

The Kansas Supreme Court also unanimously approved the legislature's map for state senatorial and representative districts, a procedural formality required under the state's constitution.