Kobach proposes courts — or he — redraw legislative districts

KobachTOPEKA – As the state Senate prepares for what could be a final showdown over legislative district maps, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has filed court papers asking for a panel of federal judges to redistrict Kansas – and offering to draw districts himself.

The legal papers are in response to a lawsuit filed by Robyn Essex, a Republican precinct committeewoman from Olathe. Essex, is represented in court by Brent E. Hayden, a Missouri lawyer who formerly served as chief of staff to Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson.

Essex's case argues that the current House, Senate and congressional districts are unlawful because of wide population shifts since the districts were drawn 10 years ago. The Kansas Constitution tasks the Legislature with redrawing districts every 10 years to ensure equality of representation.

This year, redistricting has been held up by a political battle pitting moderate Republican senators against the House and conservative Republicans in their own chamber.

Conservatives are planning to challenge at least eight senators in the August primary in an effort to swing the Senate to the right and into a closer alignment with the conservative House and governor.

A map that passed the Senate favors moderate incumbents, while the House has approved a map friendlier to conservative challengers.

In Kobach's response to the Essex lawsuit, he agreed with the plaintiff that it is unlikely that the Senate will create a district map that will also pass the House and Gov. Sam Brownback.

Backing up his contention were quotes from The Eagle and the Capitol Journal from senators who think the Legislature will fail to pass maps.

"We're now at a point where the state is in grave danger of violating federal law," Kobach said.

If they can't reach accord on redistricting by the end of this week, he proposes that the court appoint a three-judge panel to pass the maps.

Kobach said the court could select from maps that have been submitted in the Legislature or draw their own. Or, his filing said, "alternatively Defendant (Kobach) stands ready to submit valid plans of legislative apportionment, congressional apportionment, and state Board of Education apportionment for the court's consideration and issuance.

In a news conference, Kobach said he "fervently" hopes the Legislature does reach agreement.

"This task does not belong in the hands of a plaintiff and the secretary of state and three federal judges," Kobach said. "This task belongs, under the Kansas Constitution, in the hands of the Legislature. Time is very short; they can still render this case moot. But we have to proceed."

The Senate is scheduled today to discuss redistricting. On Tuesday, a move to vote on a map was derailed after a contentious Republican caucus meeting.