Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brownback tells federal judicial panel to toss legislative redistricting maps

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday told a three-judge panel to throw out all the state House and Senate redistricting plans that have been considered by the Legislature.

In a friend of the court brief, Brownback’s chief counsel Caleb Stegall said the legislative maps varied too greatly in population from ideal size districts.

“While this court has in front of it many plans considered at some point in the political process by the Kansas Legislature, none of those plans comes close to the stringent standard of equality required by the Constitution for court ordered plans,” Stegall argued. “Therefore, this court must eschew the easy route of simply approving one or the other of these plans.”

Brownback’s position was given to the federal panel that is hearing testimony in Kansas’ redistricting impasse.

The Legislature and Brownback failed to come to an agreement on redrawing political boundaries for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts during the 2012 session that ended earlier this month.

The matter is now before three federal judges: Kathryn Vratil, John Lungstrum and Mary Beck Briscoe, who is chief of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A two-day hearing started Tuesday.

Every 10 years, legislators are charged with re-drawing district lines to account for changes and shifts in population. But political warfare erupted between conservative Republicans and a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, with each side accusing the other of trying to gain the upper hand in getting their candidates elected.

Brownback, who is a conservative Republican, says he has a special interest in the case because he is “the state officer who would have been required to either approve or veto any reapportionment plan that successfully passed both the Kansas Senate and the Kansas House.”

To ensure that people are represented equally, courts demand that districts be as equal in size as possible.

The ideal size for a state Senate district is 70,896, and the ideal size for a state House district is 22,716.

Stegall said all the proposals considered by the Legislature had deviations from those populations ranging from 5.2 percent to 9.96 percent.

He said courts have allowed some leeway in districts drawn through the political process, but when courts draw the maps, those deviations are reduced to no more than two percent.

“In light of precedent set forth above, none of the state reapportionment plans considered by the Kansas Legislature satisfy the constitutional standards for equality that must be present in any court ordered plan. As such, this court must reject them all,” he said.

Stegall said there was one state Senate plan below two percent deviation that was on the Kansas legislative website but was never voted upon. That map was drawn up by a conservative legislator. Stegall didn’t endorse that plan but brought it to the panel’s attention.