State Court Rejects Kansas Congressional Map as a Gerrymander

WASHINGTON — A state court in Kansas on Monday threw out a newly drawn map of congressional districts as an unconstitutional gerrymander, the latest in a series of similar rulings across the country.

The 29th Judicial District Court said that Republicans in the State Legislature had created “intentional and effective” partisan and racial gerrymanders when they divided the state’s major Democratic strongholds among Republican-leaning House districts.

Most notably, the Republican plan divided Kansas City along both racial and partisan lines and would have endangered the only one of the state’s four House seats held by a Democrat.

District Judge Bill Klapper barred the Legislature from holding elections under the plan and ordered the lawmakers to draw new maps that followed his ruling “as expeditiously as possible.”

“Most Kansans would be appalled to know how the contest” for House seats “has been artificially engineered to give one segment of the political apparatus an unfair and unearned advantage,” he wrote in a stinging 235-page ruling.

The ruling goes directly to the State Supreme Court for review. Four of that court’s seven justices have been appointed by Democratic governors, suggesting a reasonable prospect that it will be upheld.

Republican leaders in the State House said in a statement that they expected the state attorney general to appeal the ruling. They called Judge Klapper a partisan Democrat and said he had sided with Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, “to usurp lawfully enacted maps approved by a supermajority of the people’s representatives.”

Ms. Kelly had vetoed the congressional map after Republican supermajorities in the State House and State Senate approved it in late January. The Legislature overrode the veto, and the A.C.L.U. of Kansas and the Campaign Legal Center sued in the district court, in Kansas City, to block the map.

The Republican map was “a cynical and shameful attempt to dilute the voting power of Kansas’s Black, Latino and Democratic voters,” said Stanton Jones, a lawyer for the Washington firm Arnold & Porter, which represented 11 Kansas voters who separately sued the Legislature.

Republicans in other states have taken unfavorable gerrymandering rulings to the federal courts, which have proved sympathetic to the party’s redistricting efforts in recent months. It was not immediately clear whether Republicans in the Kansas Legislature would take that path.

The Kansas ruling follows a flurry of state court decisions striking down partisan gerrymanders of congressional maps, largely in reaction to a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred federal courts from addressing the issue.

This year alone, state courts have invalidated House maps in North Carolina, Maryland, Ohio and New York. Additionally, state supreme courts in Virginia and Pennsylvania adopted balanced House maps after redistricting efforts became deadlocked in those states.

The final impact on the political balance in the closely divided House of Representatives, however, remains unknown. State courts reinstated Republican-leaning maps in Wisconsin and Ohio after federal courts intervened, and challenges in state courts to the Democratic gerrymander in New York and a new Republican gerrymander in Florida have yet to be resolved.

The Kansas decision was the first in the state to reject a political map on partisan grounds. Should it be upheld, it would in all likelihood keep intact the existing partisan balance in the state’s House delegation, which consists of three Republicans and one Democrat.

The Legislature’s map would have threatened the re-election prospects of that sole Democrat, Representative Sharice Davids, whose district includes the western half of Kansas City.

Judge Klapper waxed lyrical in the first pages of his ruling, citing an anthem about the moral strength of the residents of “the flat plains of Kansas” and musing on the meaning of democracy. But the bulk of his opinion made the case that the maps violated not only minority voting rights but also free speech, equal protection and voting rights clauses in the Kansas Constitution and the state Bill of Rights.

He leaned heavily on gerrymandering decisions in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, which have broadly similar provisions in their constitutions, to argue that such rights extend beyond those guaranteed in the federal Constitution.

Citing computer simulations of 1,000 possible congressional maps used as evidence in the trial, the judge said the G.O.P. districts were “extreme partisan outliers,” breaking state mandates to draw compact districts that did not split counties more than any of the simulations.

When measured against actual voting in past elections, he wrote, the House seat most favorable to Democrats — the Third Congressional District, held by Representative Davids — was “more heavily Republican than 99.6 percent of the least-Republican districts (i.e., the most-Democratic districts) in the 1,000 computer-simulated plans.”

The map accomplished that in part by splitting Kansas City along racial and political lines, moving 45,000 Black and Latino voters out of Ms. Davids’s district into the adjoining Second Congressional District.

“The district lines are carefully tailored to split the heart of metro Kansas City — and with it nearly a century of tradition — along its most densely minority neighborhoods,” the judge wrote.

Black and Latino voters in Kansas City have been strong supporters of Ms. Davids, one of two Native American women elected to Congress for the first time in 2018.

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