Arguments pit process vs. result in Kansas Supreme Court debate over legislative maps

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TOPEKA — Attorney General Derek Schmidt began proceedings Monday asserting to the Kansas Supreme Court that new boundaries for Kansas House and Senate districts violated no law. He urged them to look at the product, not the process, when determining validity of the map.

On the other side, opposition to the map focuses on complaints about the constitutionality of modifications made to districts across the state. Election-rights advocates have pointed to communities in Wichita; Olathe; and Kansas City, Kansas, as those adversely affected. As an attorney representing a Kansas senator argued, it would also disturb Lawrence and Leavenworth communities.

It is up to the Supreme Court to review the state House and Senate maps contained in Senate Bill 563, in response to a petition filed April 25 by Schmidt. If Schmidt, the presumptive GOP nominee for governor, has his way, the state’s highest court will approve the maps within 30 days of the filing date. 

Schmidt told the panel of seven justices the court did not have a role in reviewing validity in terms of splitting communities of interest. He said “there is always somebody unhappy when the music stops and the new districts are drawn,” but that desire to draw lines differently should not be a factor in the maps’ validity.

“This is certainly not foreign, either to this court or to the Legislature,” Schmidt said. “It happens every time there is a reapportionment, and so I wouldn’t recommend that the court sort of post hoc decide the validity means something other than or beyond what its cases have pretty clearly suggested, or we’re shooting in the dark.”

Under the state constitution, the Legislature must produce updated maps for the 125 Kansas House districts, 40 Kansas Senate districts, the Kansas Board of Education and the state’s four U.S. House districts every 10 years.

In addition to oral arguments on state House and Senate maps, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument in the attorney general’s appeal of a Wyandotte County District Court judge’s ruling that the congressional map was unconstitutional.

Mark Johnson, a Kansas City attorney representing Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, urged justices to focus on the process that led to the new district lines rather than simply the result.

“It is a broader question. The redrawing of these lines has resulted in no less than 4% of the state’s population of 3 million being represented by Senators they did not elect,” Johnson said. “More than 100,000 Kansans, because of the way these lines were changed by the Legislature, are now represented by senators they did not elect.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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