Three federal judges who redrew political boundaries in Kansas have moved to limit the legal costs that the state will be forced to cover from a lawsuit over the Legislature’s failure to adjust the lines to ensure equal representation.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the defendants in the lawsuit, said Thursday they were pleased and encouraged by the judges’ latest order this week, which asks parties suing the state for more information about their expenses. The judges have requests from 19 individuals who want the state to cover nearly $700,000 in attorney fees and other expenses.
The judges drew new lines last month for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts after an impasse between conservative and moderate Republicans prevented lawmakers from passing any redistricting legislation. Many of the 27 people suing the state had competing interests, and the judges must decide who actually prevailed and how much of their costs must be covered by the state.
In their latest order, issued Tuesday, the judges told the parties to spell out how much of their costs came from presenting specific redistricting proposals in court and how much of those proposals were reflected in the political maps ultimately drawn by the judges. The judges also said they would not consider all redistricting valid, limiting the state’s tab even further.
“I think it will reduce the number of claimants and the dollar amounts,” said Greg Musil, an Overland Park attorney who represented a Manhattan business leader.
The lawsuit was filed in early May by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, but the judges allowed 26 other people to join her, including key figures in the Legislature’s impasse. Kobach was initially the only defendant — his office oversees elections under whatever districts are in place — but the judges allowed Schmidt to join him to represent the state on questions involving legal costs.
Last week, Schmidt asked the judges to rule first on which individuals were entitled to have their legal costs covered by the state and then decide on the amount for each. The judges rejected his request, but Schmidt said he was pleased nonetheless with their order, which gives the suing parties until July 11 to provide more information.
“As a result of the court’s order, there should be a substantial savings to the Kansas taxpayers,” Schmidt said in a statement.
Kobach has argued that none of the plaintiffs should have their legal costs covered because the judges drew their own political maps, rather than approving existing proposals. He argued Thursday that the judges would have drawn nearly the same maps had Essex remained the only plaintiff.
In their latest ruling, the judges said they’d exclude expenses associated with proposals in which the population among districts varied by more than 2 percent, a limit judges were obligated to follow under past court rulings. That’s likely to exclude many of the proposals presented in court.
Kobach said the court’s standards will make it difficult for plaintiffs to have their costs covered by the state.
“I’m encouraged by the court’s order,” he said.
Seven plaintiffs didn’t ask to have their legal fees covered, including House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who represented himself. Another plaintiff, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican who represents the Kansas City area-centered 3rd Congressional District, withdrew his request.
Musil’s client, business leader Frank Beer, argued for keeping Manhattan in the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Kansas as the 1st District of western and central Kansas expanded to avoid remaining underpopulated. The judges put Manhattan in the 1st District.
Musil said Beer is weighing whether he still could have his $48,000 in legal expenses covered by the state under the standards outlined by the judges.