Some of the state’s biggest political names have made final attempts to influence a panel of federal judges before they redraw the state’s 179 legislative, congressional and state school board districts.
Gov. Sam Brownback, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt are urging the court to draw districts that vary in population by less than 2 percent.
State legislators are urging the court to go with – or at least use as a starting point – redistricting maps that made it through at least the House or the Senate. In those maps, the population from district to district varies as much as 9.86 percent.
The judges are grappling with how much the population can deviate from district to district without violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equal representation – and the state politicians are more than willing to help them decide.
While all maps are in play, the real fight is over the Senate, where moderate Republicans hold sway and can occasionally thwart or modify the more conservative policies favored by the governor and the House. Conservative interests have vowed to unseat as many as eight moderates in Republican primaries in an effort to gain control of the chamber.
Following two days of testimony at the district court in Kansas City, Kan., last week, eight of the 27 parties to the case filed post-hearing briefs. Two who weren’t officially parties to the suit filed friend-of-the-court briefs.
In addition to Brownback, Kobach and Schmidt, seven state legislators and the Johnson County Commission have weighed in.
The three-judge federal panel consists of the Kansas City’s district’s chief judge, Kathryn Vratil; its senior judge, John Lungstrom; and the chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Mary Beck Briscoe.
In the final day of their hearings Wednesday, the judges indicated they had problems with all the maps that made it partway through the Legislature – even a state House district map that was unopposed by anyone at the trial – and that they intended to work with legislative staff to draft their own maps.
Population deviation from district to district was the biggest problem they cited. In the maps that were passed by one house of the Legislature or the other, the populations across districts varied from 5.22 percent to 9.86 percent.
For the first time ever, the House and Senate were unable to reach an accord on any maps to redraw districts, a task they’re required to carry out every 10 years to equalize representation by accounting for population shifts in the Census.
The process broke down completely because of a political battle pitting moderate state senators against the staunchly conservative governor and like-minded majority in the House.
Both sides spent the first several months of the legislative session trying to draw districts that would work to their faction’s political advantage – and the final weeks fine-tuning their maps to try to pass muster in the court.
With the session now over and the decision solely in the judges’ hands, here’s where the state officials made their final stands:
The judges have not indicated how soon they may issue a ruling.