TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas’ highest court declared Tuesday that the state constitution does not prohibit partisan gerrymandering, as the deeply divided justices explained their reasons for previously upholding a Republican congressional redistricting law.
The state Supreme Court issued only a brief opinion last month approving the new congressional map without explaining the reasoning behind its 4-3 decision. The new map makes it harder for the only Democrat in the Kansas congressional delegation, two-term Rep. Sharice Davids, to win reelection in her Kansas City-area district.
One dissenting justice, Eric Rosen, accused the majority of authorizing “political chicanery” and ignoring a “full-scale assault on democracy in Kansas.”
Justice Caleb Stegall wrote for the majority that the state constitution’s guarantee of equal legal protection does not bar the Legislature from considering partisan factors when redrawing lines each decade to make districts as equal in population as possible. The Legislature has Republican supermajorities and traditionally has been controlled by the GOP.
Stegall also argued that unless the state Supreme Court set a “zero tolerance” standard on partisan gerrymandering, it has no clear standards for when it should be prohibited.
Federal judges – not the Kansas courts – have typically reviewed the state’s congressional boundaries, but the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.
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The new Kansas map split Kansas City, Kansas, which is one the few Democratic strongholds in the GOP-leaning state, between two districts. Davids lost territory where she performs well, while the new map added several rural, heavily Republican counties to her 3rd District.
The map also moved the liberal northeastern Kansas city of Lawrence into the sprawling 1st District of central and western Kansas that is dominated by small conservative communities.