TOPEKA, (KSNT)— All eyes are on the Kansas Supreme Court, as the state awaits a decision on a set of redistricting maps that could decide the state’s political future.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on state legislative maps and a congressional map on Monday. A spokeswoman told Kansas Capitol Bureau said both cases are on an “expedited schedule.”
It’s a race against the clock, as the upcoming filing deadline for candidates approaches in June. Lawmakers will also return next week to wrap up this year’s legislative session. A congressional map targeting key voting areas in the state has been at the center of the controversy.
“What we’re talking about is the intentional entrenchment of power,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director at the ACLU of Kansas.
The map, called “Ad Astra” was ruled unconstitutional in a district court. Brett spoke against the congressional map in front of justices Monday. In court, opponents of the map argued that it was gerrymandered and diluted the minority voice in one of the state’s most diverse areas.
“It classifies and favors one group of voters over another and it distorts and manipulates the map to advantage those in power,” Brett said.
The map removes the northern half of Wyandotte county from the state’s third congressional district, which is currently represented by Sharice Davids, the state’s only democrat in Congress. Now that Davids’ district is overpopulated, opponents have argued that Republicans have an incentive to draw new lines that could jeopardize her seat.
Some have pointed to a video in 2020 of former Senate President Susan Wagle, where she discussed the need for a Republican majority to redraw district maps, and to make it harder for Davids to keep her seat. Critics said Wagle’s comments were a prime example of gerrymandering. It’s also been used as a reference in arguments against this year’s congressional map.
However, Solicitor General Brant Laue, who defended the congressional map in court, said the Legislature “exercised their discretion” after listening to input from the community.
“Ultimately, they decided based upon their discretion as members of the Legislature and the arguments, and the concepts that were presented to them, to split Wyandotte county,” Laue said.
When asked why the Legislature didn’t decide to split Johnson county, Laue said lawmakers were told that Johnson county was considered the “economic engine” of Kansas, and that a “group of Chambers of Commerce” asked them not to split Johnson county.
The congressional map also takes Lawrence, just one city in Douglas county, and adds it to the “Big First” congressional district, which is otherwise made up of more rural, conservative areas. Laue continued to defend legislative efforts to even out the population in the state’s growing urban areas.
He also refuted concerns of “government retaliation” brought up by Justice Biles, who said the map involved “targeting other citizens” for their past voting record.
“There’s no basis for saying this is some sort of revenge or retaliation… it’s politics, and there are winners and losers in politics,” Laue said.