Kansas Residents Sue State Over Gerrymandered Cards

Sixteen residents of three Kansas counties have filed a legal challenge to the state’s newly drawn maps of congressional districts, which the Republican-led state legislature passed earlier this month.

A number of suffrage organizations joined the trial, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas and the Campaign Legal Center. A separate challenge to the maps has been filed by Democracy filea national organization led by Democratic suffrage lawyer Marc Elias, and hard lighta state-based civic engagement group that aims to empower young voters.

The lawsuits argue that the new cards were designed with the specific purpose of increasing Republican representation — and in a bid to defeat the lone Democratic congresswoman, Rep. Sharice Davids, by making her district harder to win in the 2022 midterm elections.

The ACLU alleges that the new card is an “extreme and intentional” political gerrymander which dilutes the representation of non-white communities.

For example, the map divides Wyandotte County, placing much of the county’s black and Latino communities in a nearby predominantly white rural district. The new map also dilutes the voting power of progressive and liberal voters in Lawrence County, putting the county on the same boundary as the state’s 1st Congressional District, which is also more rural and traditionally conservative.

“The adopted plan was deliberately designed to consistently and efficiently elect exclusively Republicans to Congress, and specifically to prevent Democratic voters in the Kansas City metro area from electing their preferred candidate, currently Congresswoman Sharice Davids,” ACLU lawsuit states. “Republican legislative leaders didn’t even try to hide it.”

“The people of the Kansas City metropolitan area have a real need and desire to elect representatives who will represent their interests in Congress,” says Sharon Brett, the ACLU of Kansas’ chief legal officer, in a separate statement. “What this card does is basically ignore those interests and desires and do it for political gain.”

Notably, the lawsuits fall under the state court system rather than the federal system, the first time a Kansas congressional map challenge has been issued in this area. This choice may have been made because of a 2019 Supreme Court decision which ruled that federal courts cannot overrule cards based on political gerrymandering, as well as a more recent Supreme Court decision which left racist cards in alabama in place.

The map challenges hope to use the equal rights and political power clauses of the state constitution to provide a basis for why the maps should be overturned. The lawsuits ask state courts to require the Republican Legislature to draw a new conforming map, or failing that, to have the courts draw them instead.

The cards in question were adopted earlier this month, overcoming a veto by Democratic Governor Laura Kellywho tried to block their implementation after describing the maps as “really bad for Kansas”.

The Congressional map “separates the real communities of interest, in a way that disenfranchises certain groups,” Kelly said. “There is no doubt that the way Wyandotte County has been bisected, on this map, will not disenfranchise our communities of color.”

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