On February 14, 2022, the ACLU of Kansas and the Campaign Legal Center, along with pro bono assistance from Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, filed suit in Wyandotte County District Court Monday, seeking to block the recently enacted congressional redistricting map, claiming it is a partisan and racial gerrymander.
The suit, Alonzo et al. v. Schwab, against Kansas Sec. of State Scott Schwab and Wyandotte County Election Commissioner Abbott, was filed on behalf of 10 plaintiffs who live in Johnson or Wyandotte counties and an additional plaintiff who lives in Lawrence.
It argues that the new map cracks the most racially diverse county in Kansas in half in an attempt to dilute the voices of minority voters. The lawsuit argues that the congressional map constitutes partisan and racial gerrymandering, violating the Equal Rights and Political Power Clauses, Free Speech and Free Assembly Clauses, and the Right to Suffrage provisions of the Kansas Constitution.
The Kansas Legislature passed the map, dubbed “Ad Astra 2,” on Feb. 9 in a process that took less than two weeks, that ignored public input, and that required an override of Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto.
The Ad Astra 2 map slices the Kansas City, Kansas metropolitan area into two different congressional districts. Under the new map, the heavily minority communities in Wyandotte north of the Kansas River would be removed from District 3 and placed in District 2, resulting in significant dilution of the minority voting strength of those voters. The remaining District 3 voters likewise would have their votes diluted, as southern Wyandotte and the metro-Kansas City communities in Johnson County would combine with rural, white counties to the south and west.
The map also removes Lawrence from District 2, separating it from the rest of Douglas County, and placing it into District 1 – a vast, predominately rural district that hugs the border of Colorado and has little in common with the heavily Democratic county seat. The lawsuit argues that this move was a partisan one, meant to offset the Wyandotte County Democratic voters moved into District 2.
The lawsuit asks the court to grant declaratory and injunctive relief, and force the Kansas Legislature to return to the drawing board to produce a fair, equitable map.
On March 9, Judge Klapper consolidated the Alonzo case with another case pending in the same court challenging the enacted plan, Rivera et al. v. Schwab et al., 2022-CV-89. On March 28th, Judge Klapper denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss and consolidated a third case, originally filed in Douglas County, into the two pending Wyandotte County actions.
Judge Klapper presided over a four-day bench trial of all three cases on April 4-6 and April 11. The parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on April 18. Judge Klapper is expected to rule by April 25. Transcripts of the trial court proceedings and the Alonzo and Rivera Plaintiffs’ joint findings of fact and conclusions of law are linked below.
On April 25, 2022, Judge Klapper issued a decision in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that Ad Astra was created secretly and pushed through the Legislature in departure from regular processes and indeed constituted an intentional and effective partisan gerrymander and racial vote dilution of the Wyandotte County minority communities as plaintiffs claimed. The judge also found that the defendants' experts failed to rebut the plaintiffs' claims and that the defendants' justifications for the Ad Astra 2 map failed.
On April 26, 2022, Defendants Scott Schwab and Michael Abbot filed a notice of appeal of the trial court's decision to the Kansas Supreme Court and an appellate opening brief shortly after. The Plaintiffs'/Appellees' opening brief was filed on May 9.
On May 18, 2022, the Supreme Court of Kansas ruled against the Plaintiffs, allowing the Ad Astra 2 map to remain in place for 10 years. The Kansas Supreme Court held that Section 2 of the Kansas Bill of Rights guarantees the same rights as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. But in so ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court incorrectly held that to prove an Equal Protection Clause violation, Plaintiffs must meet a threshold showing derived from federal statutory law.
On November 23, 2022, the Campaign Legal Center, ACLU of Kansas, and ACLU National, representing the Alonzo Plaintiffs, filed a cert petition with the United States Supreme Court. The Elias Law Group, representing the Rivera Plaintiffs, joined the brief.
The Kansas Supreme Court held in Rivera v. Schwab (consolidated with Alonzo) that Section 2 of the Kansas Bill of Rights guarantees the same rights as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. But in so ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court incorrectly held that to prove an Equal Protection Clause violation, Plaintiffs must meet a threshold showing derived from federal statutory law. The Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling set a standard for evaluating claims of intentional race discrimination that is contrary to legal precedent and inconsistent with numerous cases interpreting the federal Equal Protection Clause. Under the Kansas Supreme Court’s erroneous holding, Kansans would be precluded from ever bringing a case alleging intentional discrimination in the drawing of maps. This result is contrary to the entire purpose of the protections provided by the Equal Protection Clause and, if uncorrected, grants license to the Kansas legislature to intentionally discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities. The cert petition calls on SCOTUS to correct the Kansas Supreme Court’s grave legal error.