CASE SUMMARY

On February 14, 2022 a group of Kansas voters filed a lawsuit against Kansas's Secretary of State and the Wyandotte County Election Commissioner challenging the state's enacted congressional plan as violating the Kansas Constitution. First, they allege the plan is a partisan gerrymander designed to disproportionately favor Republicans and disfavor Democrats in violation of the Kansas Constitution's Equal Rights (Section 1), Political Power (Section 2), Free Speech (Section 11), and Free Assembly (Section 3) clauses, along with the plaintiffs' Right to Suffrage under Article 5, Section 1. Next, they assert the plan is racially discriminatory against minority voters in violation of the Kansas Constitution's Equal Rights and Political Power clauses. They are seeking a judicial declaration that the enacted plan violates the Kansas Constitution, an injunction barring the defendants from using the plan for the 2022 primary and general elections, a court order requiring the state to enact a new, constitutional redistricting plan or adopting a court-imposed plan if the state fails to do so by the court's established deadline.

On April 25, the district court issued its ruling striking down the congressional plan as violating various provisions of the Kansas Constitution. First, the court held partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable by Kansas courts and, pursuant to the Kansas Constitution's guarantees of equal protection, free speech and assembly, and suffrage, are subject to strict scrutiny where the Court finds the Legislature acted with the purpose of achieving partisan gain by diluting the votes of disfavored-party members and the plan will have the desired effect of substantially diluting disfavored-party members' votes. Applying that standard, the court found the enacted plan constituted an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of Sections 1, 2, 3, and 11 of the Kansas Bill of Rights and Article 5, Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution. Second, the court articulated five non-exclusive factors for determining whether a plan constitutes intentional vote dilution and, applying that standard, held the plan intentionally and effectively resulted in the dilution of minority voting strength in violation of the equal protection guarantees under Sections 1 and 2 of the Kansas Bill of Rights. Finally, the court rejected the defendants' argument that the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause barred state court review of congressional redistricting plans under state constitutions. Having declared the plan unconstitutional, the court enjoined the defendants from using it in future elections and ordered the Legislature to enact a remedial plan in accordance with its opinion "as expeditiously as possible," stating it must be prepared in time for all Kansas voters to know in which congressional district they reside. The defendants appealed this ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court the same day.

On May 18, the Kansas Supreme Court issued an order reversing the district court's judgment and upholding the congressional plan as constitutional and released its full opinion on June 21. The Court first held in the absence of any explicit provisions in the Kansas Constitution or Kansas law regarding the use of partisan factors during redistricting, there were no judicially manageable standings by which to evaluate the plaintiffs' partisan gerrymandering claims, thereby making it a nonjusticiable political question. Second, the Court adopted the U.S. Supreme Court's tests for evaluating racial gerrymandering and minority vote dilution claims under the Kansas Constitution's equal protection provisions and found that because the district court failed to apply these tests here, the plaintiffs failed to establish the elements necessary to prove the existence of racial gerrymandering or minority vote dilution in the legislature's enacted plan.

Related Case: Rivera v. Schwab

CASE LIBRARY

Kansas District Court, Wyandotte County - 2022-CV-000090

Kansas Supreme Court - No. 125092