2022: Year in Review
We’re looking back on our work to create a more perfect union in Kansas – beyond any one person, party, or side.
In 2022, we…
…KEPT OUR GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENT.
In an ongoing and needlessly prolonged process, we won a decisive victory in July when the Kansas Court of Appeals found Secretary of State Scott Schwab violated public records law when he had removed functionality for a voting records report.
The saga began shortly after the 2018 election when our client Davis Hammet, founder and president of the voter advocacy organization Loud Light, realized a startling number of provisional ballots had been rejected. He filed a Kansas Open Records Act request so his organization could empower Kansans to cure outstanding issues with their ballots.
The Secretary of State ignored the request, and in June of 2020, we sued in the first Hammet v. Schwab case of the year. In July, a district court decided in our favor, compelling the Secretary to provide the requested documents.
Following the decision, Sec. Schwab requested that the database vendor revoke his access to the provisional ballot report, then responded to Mr. Hammet most recent request that his office was unable to provide these records. We were forced to sue (and win) again in our second Hammet v. Schwab case in 2020.
The case was an intersection of government transparency, accountability and voter empowerment – all of which are fundamental to a functioning and strong democracy. Clearly, government agencies should be working to make records more transparent, rather than less.
…CONFRONTED UNFAIR MAPS.
Gerrymandering has been a dirty political trick for well over a century, but its pervasive use in our country in recent years may be more destructive than ever. Under the guise of a fabricated need to break up Johnson and Wyandotte Counties, Kansas legislators leveraged this anti-democratic tactic to the Free State in 2022.
We won a decisive victory in the district court in our challenge to Kansas redistricting, where we showcased the racial discrimination baked into the politically calculated Ad Astra map that systematically and surgically broke up communities of interest to dilute their voice. Our expert witnesses used computer models to show that, given the requirements of a redistricted map, the politician’s map was as extreme and calculated as possible.
Unfortunately, the Kansas Supreme Court overruled the district court by a narrow 5-4 vote, and the racially gerrymandered map was allowed to take effect.
The 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. 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. With our partners last month, we petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to correct this grave legal error.
…MADE HISTORY IN THE FIGHT FOR REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM.
In 2022 one of our worst fears came true: the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to end federal protections for abortion rights and reproductive freedom, abruptly overturning decades of precedent.
The ACLU was paramount in having these rights recognized 50 years ago through Roe v. Wade, so it was gutting to see these protections discarded and to witness how the 2022 Bostock decision recklessly put pregnant people across the country in danger.
In Kansas, a 2019 state Supreme Court decision in Hodes v. Nauser found bodily autonomy was protected under the Kansas Constitution—in response, radical politicians opted to change the Constitution itself to exclude protections for pregnant people’s healthcare by introducing a constitutional amendment for the 2020 election.
In a shifty attempt to bypass the will of the majority of Kansans, legislative leaders placed the amendment on the ballot for the August 2nd primary, during which historically lower turnout could improve the amendment’s chances of slipping through and taking effect.
Despite these political games, Kansans came out in droves to vote “no”. The August 2nd amendment not only failed -- it was resoundingly crushed by a historical 18 points. On top of protecting our rights in Kansas, the decisive margin discouraged other states from even attempting this radical move and shifted national understanding of where voters really stand on the issue. The eyes of the world were on Kansas, and we said in no uncertain terms, across all partisan lines, that we stand for civil liberties.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. In 2022, we stepped forward in other fights.
WE SHOWED UP FOR…
Our Election Protection work continued in the historic 2022 election season, providing live, nonpartisan assistance to voters across the state with a team of attorneys and volunteers at various polls.
…FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS;
We called on the St. Marys City Commission to reverse course on its threat to reject the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library’s lease after the library refused to remove all LGBTQ+, sexual, racial, or otherwise “socially divisive” content.
AND LGBTQ+ KANSANS;
We outlined the dangers of the Gardner Edgerton School District’s proposed policies that would violate the rights of transgender students. We also launched our LGBTQ+ Advocacy Landing Page to help empower LGBTQ+ Kansans and advocates across the state to house various resources and information, including toolkits explaining our legal rights and how to enforce them.
We also had some wins along the way in our ongoing work to challenge…
…unconstitutional wait-times for mental health evaluations;
In May, we filed a lawsuit against the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability, which runs the forensic unit at Larned State Hospital, for prolonged wait times for mental health evaluations. Some people may spend more time waiting in jail for an evaluation or treatment bed than they would face in prison if they were convicted. The long waitlist exacerbates the mental health challenges of those on the list, subjects them to prolonged punishment, and violates their Constitutional rights.
…the discriminatory gang list in Wichita;
We’re holding to account the Wichita Police Department’s discriminatory and unconstitutional “gang database,” which errantly targets people of color for profiling premised on flimsy vague criteria. In January, a court ruled that our clients indeed have standing and can continue with the case. The state statute authorizing WPD’s gang list and the department’s application have harmed residents across Wichita and Kansas, subjecting numerous people to profiling, harassment, and targeting by the department.
…and the Kansas Highway Patrol’s practice of targeting and searching drivers.
In 2020 we filed a lawsuit to end Kansas Highway Patrol’s practice of targeting out-of-state motorists and using a training technique knowns as the “Kansas Two-Step” to circumvent their constitutional protections and subject drivers to prolonged detention and canine searches.
This year in June, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s denial of summary judgement, allowing the case to proceed to the District Court of Kansas, and denying the state of Kansas’ claim that qualified immunity shielded the defendants from responsibility in the facts of the case.
As we close a historic year for civil rights and civil liberties, we’re re-committing to protecting the civil rights and liberties of all people living in Kansas. Our work in the state legislature, the courts, and local communities will continue as 2023 brings new challenges – and we’re ready.
If you’re ready, too: find out how you can join the movement and take action in 2023 with us for the issues you care about.