Three federal judges set new political boundaries for Kansas in a ruling late Thursday night, making a change in congressional districts that many Republican legislators have opposed.
The panel released the order in a federal lawsuit that was filed last month. The judges drew new boundaries for congressional, state House, state Senate and State Board of Education districts because the Republican-dominated Legislature failed to do so.
The maps needed to be adjusted to account for population shifts over the past decade, though a bitter feud among Republicans prevented passage of any political maps.
“As a result, the court has regretfully resorted to the painstaking task of drawing its own plans,” the judges said in the unsigned order, which was more than 200 pages long.
A key change in the state’s congressional map will expand the 1st District of western and central Kansas so that it takes in Manhattan, home to Kansas State University. Many Republicans wanted the city to stay in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas.
Manhattan-area officials also wanted to stay in the 2nd District, arguing that their community had more in common with eastern Kansas. That prompted legislators to consider proposals that split major eastern Kansas communities — Kansas City, Topeka and Lawrence — so that part of each would have been lumped into the 1st District with farming communities 400 miles or more away.
Many GOP lawmakers were willing to do that because moving Manhattan to the 1st District created a slightly more Democratic district for U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the senior member of the state’s all GOP delegation in the U.S. House.
The plan also unites all of Lawrence in the 2nd District; the city had been split between the 2nd and the 3rd districts. The 3rd District is centered on the Kansas City area.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the new state legislative districts favor conservative or moderate Republicans, whose feud created the legislative stalemate.
The fight over state Senate districts was the most bitter, because of feuding between conservative and moderate Republicans. Conservatives hope to oust the chamber’s moderate GOP leaders and accuse them of trying to draw district boundaries to thwart primary challengers.
The judges considered multiple proposals for redrawing Kansas Senate districts. The court allowed 27 individuals to intervene in the case, many of whom were key figures in the Legislature’s stalemate. Those individuals submitted numerous proposals to the judges.
“Most of the interveners have unabashedly political reasons for intervening, and they seek to advance their respective political agendas,” the judges wrote.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said he would have preferred to keep the Manhattan-area in the 2nd District. But he said the alternative proposals that would have done that clearly violated redistricting guidelines that legislators had adopted for themselves.
“The map does at least preserve the core of the existing district,” said Davis, one of the interveners in the case.
Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Republican from Hugoton, said the proposal approved by the court was reasonable except for the placement of Manhattan. “It’s not surprising,” he said.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he was reviewing the ruling Thursday night. Kobach was named as the original defendant because he oversees elections in the state.
A message left late Thursday night for House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a conservative Republican from Hutchinson, wasn’t immediately returned.