Kansas judge: New congressional map favors Republicans too much

Ruling focused on minority voting rights and partisan gerrymandering

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., speaks at the event in the Capitol in 2020.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., speaks at the event in the Capitol in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 25, 2022 at 5:20pm

A state court judge tossed Kansas’ new congressional map Monday, ruling that the district lines unfairly favored Republicans and diluted minority voters’ power at the ballot box.

The Kansas Legislature would have to redraw its four congressional districts under the decision from Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper, though the judge himself noted it may be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The map, which would favor Republicans in all four districts, violated state constitutional protections for minority voting rights and against partisan gerrymandering, Klapper wrote in a more than 200-page ruling.

“How strong are Kansans? Strong enough to expect nothing more than a level playing field devoid of partisan advantage for one group of Kansans,” Klapper wrote. “Strong enough for the merits of the issue to be the deciding factor. Strong enough to make their political decisions based upon the content of a candidate’s character rather than the color of their political party.”

The state currently has three Republicans and one Democrat in the House, Rep. Sharice Davids. Davids won reelection in 2020 with 53 percent of the vote in her seat based in Kansas City.

Under the new map, based on the results of the 2020 census, Davids’ seat would have lost the northern part of Kansas City picked up several counties to the southwest, making it more Republican-leaning.

With control of the House of Representatives hanging on just five seats, experts expect that redistricting will have an outsize effect on which party controls the House next year.

In Monday’s ruling, the judge traced the map-drawing back to 2020 comments by then-state Senate President Susan Wagle about the intent to draw all four of the state’s seats with a Republican lean. Klapper wrote the map “reflects a single-minded desire to maximize Republican advantage.”

The map drawing “was motivated at least in part by an intent to dilute minority voting strength,” Klapper wrote.

Any ruling, or implementation of a new map, would have to occur quickly. The state has a June 1 qualification deadline for an Aug. 2 primary election. It’s also unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene, as a majority of justices have already turned away several redistricting cases due to the proximity to this fall’s elections.

The Kansas ruling is the latest in a string of state court decisions against overly partisan congressional maps, including cases in Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.