Kansas High Court Upholds GOP Map Dealing Davids Tougher Race

  • Democrat’s district moves from Biden +11 to +4
  • Brief court statement didn’t provide reason for ruling

Rep. Sharice Davids—the only Democrat in Kansas’ congressional delegation—saw her re-election prospects narrow Wednesday after the state Supreme Court upheld the GOP-controlled state legislature’s map.

In a three-sentence ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed a lower court judge who held that the Republican-controlled legislature illegally discriminated against voters’ race and partisan affiliation under the Kansas Constitution. “A full opinion describing the facts, rationale, and holdings of the court is forthcoming,” Justice Caleb Stegall wrote in the two-page document.

The ruling ends three suits brought by minority voters against the Kansas secretary of state. The plaintiffs alleged the map moved large swathes of minority voters from Davids’ 3rd District to neighboring heavily Republican districts. The new configuration reduced President Joe Biden’s 2020 election margin of victory to 4 percentage points from 11 points in Davids’ current district.

“This ruling means Kansas voters, particularly minority voters in Kansas City, will live under unfair maps for the next 10 years,” said Mark Gaber, senior director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center and attorney for one of the plaintiffs.

The Kansas attorney general didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Kansas voters go to the polls on Aug. 2 for primary elections, after which Davids will likely face a rematch with Amanda Adkins (R), who lost their 2020 matchup by 10 points.

“From rushed hearings to backroom deals for votes, the redistricting process did not instill a sense of transparency or confidence in the people of Kansas,” Davids said in a statement. “I look forward to introducing myself to the new voters in the Third District, continuing my work to find common ground and tackle the everyday issues facing our community, and showing all Kansans that to me, their voice matters.”

Source: Kansas Legislature
Shaded areas show the new districts; the black lines show the current boundaries.

At the center of the lawsuits were questions about whether state law—not the federal Voting Rights Act—prohibited the Legislature from drawing lines that shifted Black and Latino voters, diluting their political power. Court-watchers will have to wait to see whether the judges gave a substantive opinion on those grounds or invalidated the lower court ruling based on a procedural issue.

“Today’s order highlights how difficult it generally is to challenge enacted legislation,” Republican election lawyer Jason Torchinsky said in an email. “Exactly why the State Supreme Court overruled the trial court remains to be seen when they issue the full opinion. But, bottom line, the legislature’s adopted map will be in place for 2022.”

Torchinsky is a partner at Holtzman Vogel Baran Torchinsky & Josefiak PLLC.

The case also elevated a controversial legal theory that could drastically cut back on how state courts rule in redistricting cases.

Kansas Solicitor Brant Laue defended the lines, arguing that state courts couldn’t override the map because the US Constitution delegates ultimate authority for congressional line-drawing to state legislatures. Four conservative US Supreme Court justices have signaled approval for this “independent state legislature doctrine”.

The case is Rivera, et al. v. Schwab, et al., Kan., No. 22-125092-S, opinion 5/18/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Madison, Wisconsin at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com