Kansas Supreme Court to the voters: Gerrymandering is A-OK in the Sunflower State

·3 min read

Gerrymandering is constitutional in Kansas.

That’s the only conclusion Kansans can reach after the state Supreme Court upheld new district maps designed by Republicans to help Republicans. One map outlines four districts for the U.S. House; the other draws districts for the Legislature.

The opinions were terse. Both simply tossed aside challenges to state and federal maps, promising a full explanation later. On this point, at least, the court deserves some credit: The filing deadline is just a few weeks away, and a timely decision is helpful.

But Kansans who want fair elections that give all voices a chance to be heard should be keenly disappointed with these decisions. It validates former state Senate President Susan Wagle’s bold promise to draw favorable congressional maps if only voters would send Republican supermajorities to Topeka.

The court’s decision also ratifies the Republican effort to draft maps quietly, while ignoring the testimony of dozens of Kansans who wanted a fair process. Those Kansans were swept aside.

The congressional district map, endorsed by the court, seems most egregious. The map splits beleaguered Wyandotte County into two districts, weakening the influence of county voters and Democrats. It also puts Lawrence in the conservative 1st District, which would be laughable were it not so offensive.

Those maps are now locked in place. What can be done?

Democrats will have to redouble efforts to compete in more difficult districts. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat, may face the toughest test in the redrawn 3rd District after the loss of some Wyandotte County constituents.

On the other hand, Davids won convincingly two years ago, and defeated a well-known Republican incumbent in 2018. She has proved resilient in the past, and may still have a chance to prevail.

Democrats in the other Kansas House districts have always been at a distinct disadvantage. The new maps make the situation more difficult, which is, of course, the point.

But there is a larger issue here for Kansans to consider. It’s increasingly clear that the courts, often seen as the final protector of individual and civil rights, have largely abandoned that effort. Instead, the courts — from Topeka to Washington, D.C. — now see their role as enacting protections for favored political groups and agendas.

This is deeply unfortunate. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said it would not get involved in redistricting cases. It has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act. State legislatures are gleefully enacting laws making it harder to vote.

It isn’t just elections. The draft opinion in the Mississippi abortion case shows the U.S. Supreme Court’s disdain for women’s rights and liberty interests. If it remains intact, women will become second-class citizens.

It’s true that the Kansas Supreme Court has said women have a specific individual right to abortion, which the Legislature can restrict only under the most compelling circumstances. In August, voters will be asked to overturn that decision. If it passes, the state court will be powerless to protect women’s rights (and those of other Kansans, too.)

In short, the courts — often the last, best defense of liberty — are no longer a reliable protector of freedom. The only answer is at the ballot box, however imperfect and unfair that process might be.

The August primary, including the Kansas abortion amendment, is less than three months away. Make your plans now to vote.