The Kansas Supreme Court to say if Republicans gerrymandered the state’s congressional map

The Kansas Supreme Court will consider if district court judge correctly followed the state constitution when ruling the Republican-led Kansas Legislature drew a racially and politically gerrymandered congressional map.

by Dylan Lysen, KCUR and Kansas News Service

Connie Brown Collins felt ecstatic when a Wyandotte County judge recently struck down a congressional redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led Kansas Legislature.

The Kansas City, Kansas, resident said she and others repeatedly told lawmakers that the map unfairly split racially diverse Wyandotte County into two separate congressional districts. They argued the districts were drawn to drown out their votes to help Republican candidates win elections in all four of the state’s congressional districts.

Additionally, residents in Lawrence made a similar argument about shifting the Democratic stronghold into the deep-red 1st District that represents western Kansas.

It took a first-of-its-kind ruling from District Court Judge Bill Klapper to, for now, strike down the map.

“Now that the ruling has been handed down,” said Brown Collins, a plaintiff in the case, “I’m just very, very happy.”

Now the state has appealed Klapper’s ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court is scheduled to take up the case in May. That sets the stage for the justices to issue a landmark ruling on how far one political party in Kansas can gerrymander congressional districts.

But the justices will need to act quickly to meet a looming June 1 deadline, which is the registration deadline for candidates to file for election. That will stretch to June 10 if a map is not finalized by May 10.

On Friday, the court announced it scheduled the case to be heard on May 16, all but ensuring the registration deadline will be extended. Here’s what could happen next:

Kansas Supreme Court hears appeal

The court will first hear oral arguments from attorneys in the case. The defendants in the case, who are representing the state and appealing the ruling, will need to argue Klapper misapplied state law.

Meanwhile, attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case will argue that Klapper’s ruling is correct.

Unlike the trial in Wyandotte County, the court will not hear any new testimony or evidence. The justices will simply decide whether Klapper properly followed the Kansas Constitution.

Justices look at two separate issues in ruling

The court will face two specific issues: whether the state law protects Kansans from both political and racial gerrymandering.

Washburn University law professor Christopher Gunn, an elections expert, said the court only needs to uphold Klapper’s decision on one of those issues. He believes Klapper’s ruling on the racial gerrymander issue is much easier to sort out because state law is more strict in protecting Kansans from race discrimination.

But Gunn wants the court to consider both and issue a ruling that will set the standard for what constitutes racial and political gerrymandering for years to come.

“I’m hoping the justices on our supreme court take the time to look through these issues and identify for us what this is so that, at least for Kansans, this issue is largely put to rest,” Gunn said.

Supreme Court orders vary based on ruling

If the court chooses to uphold Klapper’s ruling, it will have a few options on how to handle the issue going forward.

First, it would likely order the Kansas Legislature to redraw the map with stipulations that it doesn’t again create racially and politically gerrymandered districts.

But because the deadline for candidates is close at hand, the court may order the 2020 maps to stay in effect for the 2022 midterm elections, Gunn said.

Alternatively, the justices could order the district court, specifically Klapper, to draw new districts to be put into place before the deadline. Gunn said that is less likely, but not unheard of. He noted the 2020 congressional district map was drawn by a federal court judge in 2012.

There is also the chance the map that was struck down is resurrected. The justices could disagree with Klapper and rule that he misapplied the state law. If that occurs, the congressional map drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature would be reinstated to exist for the next 10 years.

Brown Collins said she hopes the court upholds Klapper’s ruling and lawmakers take her concerns into account when redrawing the districts.

“If they send the map back to be redrawn by the Legislature, I just hope that they heed what the community has told them over and over and over,” she said.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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Conflicting sides make final case in Kansas congressional redistricting trial, await judge decision

Appeal to the Supreme Court expected regardless of outcome

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

A map produced by Republicans in the House and Senate would place Lawrence in the 1st District, which stretches to the Colorado border. Curtis Woods said the eye test of the map was enough to see the lengths Republicans went to entrench their power. (Submitted)

Topeka — An attorney representing Kansas voters who feel their votes will be drowned out by new congressional districts wrapped a weeklong trial Monday by urging a district judge to block the map on grounds the GOP-dominated Legislature tore apart communities of interest for political benefit.

The proposal splits the Kansas City metro area along Interstate 70, separating the northern part of Wyandotte County, an area with a heavy Democratic lean, from Johnson County and the 3rd District. It also places Lawrence into the 1st District, which extends west to the Colorado border, about 400 miles from the college town.

Local and D.C. voting rights attorneys asked Wyandotte County District Judge Bill Klapper to block the map known as Ad Astra 2, arguing Republican legislators intentionally engaged in a radical partisan and racial gerrymander. The assertions made by plaintiffs are at odds with the beliefs of state-hired attorneys certain the Legislature did its best to meet a complicated challenge.

Sharon Brett, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, reiterated points made in opening arguments and throughout the case, tracing the map back to comments made by former Senate President Susan Wagle in September 2020, when Wagle outlined how Republicans could redraw maps to ensure four Republican representatives are sent to Congress.

Brett said the intention was always to maximize partisan gains and drown out Kansans’ voices.

“The Legislature cannot have unfettered, unchecked power to silence the political voices of those with whom it does not agree,” Brett said. “Diluted votes are not equal votes.”

The trial is being held in state court after a 2019 U.S. Court decision determined federal courts should have no say in the topic. Klapper could have until April 25 to pass a judgment.

The judge’s ruling is expected to be appealed regardless of the decision.

“I hope your case has a smooth journey through the Supremes,” Klapper said.

Even with the likelihood that this ruling would not be final, Tony Rupp, an attorney representing the state, hoped Klapper would reach a favorable judgment for the state. Rupp said even expert witnesses brought in by plaintiffs show Rep. Sharice Davids, the only Democrat from Kansas in Congress, would still be in a competitive district, and therefore the map does not reach the threshold for gerrymandering.

Rupp said if the intention were to dilute the vote of Kansas Democrats, the Legislature could have gone about it much more efficiently. A gerrymander requires the breaking of minority communities to the point candidates are unable to win, he said.

“It is a slightly more Republican than it was, but that’s not a gerrymander or, in any case, impermissible,” Rupp said. “This has created a map where either side can win based on the quality of candidates.”

Turning to concerns about the damage done to communities of interest, Rupp said the qualifications for such a community were squishy and cannot be measured. He said that even if there were an effective way to measure them, the guidelines for redistricting are merely suggestions that do not trump legislative judgment.

If Kansans feel their community was unfairly split, they can always vote out the legislators representing them, Rupp said.

But Curtis Woods, an attorney for Douglas County plaintiffs, said one only had to apply the eye test to see the length Republicans were willing to go to entrench their power. Woods also noted testimony from Douglas County Commissioner Shannon Portillo explaining how Lawrence was, with the county, a community of interest.

Scooping Lawrence into the 1st District would not only swallow up the voices of Lawrence Democrats but pushes the district beyond the required population, Woods said. He said the Big 1st, as the district is commonly referred to, only needed approximately 34,000 more people, but the map added more than 130,000 people to the district, requiring population redistribution in other rural areas.

Lawrence itself has a population of 94,000, he said.

“In other words, if you leave Lawrence out, that’s 36,000, sufficient to balance out the (congressional districts),” Woods said. “That was not their goal. Those machinations of moving 135,000 out shows you the intent of Republicans to take the Democratic votes of Lawrence and throw them into the ocean.”

Kansas Reflector stories,, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
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Kansas gerrymandering trial in Wyandotte County is almost over. Here are the takeaways

Experts argue that analysis shows racial and political gerrymandering, while the defense says there’s no way to prove it.

by Dylan Lysen, KCUR and Kansas News Service

Kansas City, Kansas — A trial in state court challenging the recently drawn Kansas congressional map is soon coming to a close after several days of arguments over whether state lawmakers crafted districts to benefit Republican candidates.

Civil rights groups and some residents want the map thrown out because it waters down the influence of people of color by splitting Wyandotte County into separate districts, and because it lumps heavily Democratic Lawrence in a Republican-dominated district.

The challengers spent the first three days of the trial this week providing expert testimony and evidence to bolster their case. Meanwhile the attorneys defending the map have argued that the case should be dismissed.

One more day of testimony is expected on Monday, and then the case will be in the hands of Judge Bill Klapper. He is expected to issue a ruling within 10 days.

Regardless of which way he decides to rule, it will be historic. The Kansas judicial system has never before considered political or racial gerrymandering, and the case is believed to be on its way to a landmark ruling.

With a majority of the testimony heard by the court, here’s some major takeaways from the proceedings so far:

Experts argue political and racial gerrymandering

Political scientist Christopher Warshaw of George Washington University showed the court his statistical analysis of Kansas’ new districts. He said it showed the changes to Wyandotte County and Lawrence cut the chances of a Democratic candidate winning a Kansas seat to the U.S. House nearly in half.

Then Patrick Miller of the University of Kansas presented data showing the most racially diverse portion of Wyandotte County was cut out of the 3rd District, which represents the Kansas City area, into the 2nd District that represents most of eastern Kansas and favors Republicans.

He called that change “disastrous” for the people of color in Wyandotte County because it makes their votes “basically irrelevant.”

Defense says there’s no way to prove gerrymandering

After the plaintiffs finished presenting testimony, attorneys for the state asked the judge to dismiss the case for a lack of evidence.

The defense argued that there is no standard in Kansas to prove what is or isn’t gerrymandering and the challengers could not prove a state law was broken. The judge denied the request.

Judge calls evidence ‘overwhelming’

In his denial, Klapper signaled he believed that the plaintiffs had presented “overwhelming” evidence that the new districts result in political and racial gerrymandering. But he said the question of the trial is whether that means the map is a violation of the state constitution.

He said the plaintiffs presented testimony from several political scientists who all used different statistical tests that came to the same conclusion — the new state congressional maps are a result of racial and political gerrymandering.

The case is heading to the Kansas Supreme Court

At one point in the proceedings, Klapper acknowledged the case was destined to be heard by the state’s highest court.

He called the case a “vehicle to get to the Supreme Court” where the justices will make a final ruling on whether gerrymandering is allowed under the Kansas Constitution.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
See more at