The 2020 federal census will be used again to guide another reapportionment of the seats (and power) in the Kansas House of Representatives, State Senate and State Board of Education. The process has again kindled controversy as the state’s rural population declines and metropolitan areas grow. This is the second in a series of articles about a Kansas lawsuit that ignited national reforms.
Sixty years ago, in 1962, state legislative reapportionment was bound to become the most fundamental political issue of the 20th century. In Kansas, the matter was gathering steam and heat in the courts. What had caused all the furor?
In spite of great shifts of population from farm country to cities and the suburbs across America, most legislatures did not reapportion accordingly. Kansas was one of the first states to experience a lawsuit claiming that apportionment of both houses of the legislature was unconstitutional; it asked for proper reapportionment – one man, one vote – to guarantee equal protection by law and fair representation in a democracy.
After years of side-stepping the political thickets of reapportionment, the United States Supreme Court in 1962 decided that lower courts should hear, and act upon, complaints of discrimination in legislative reapportionment. In May that year, a Shawnee County District Judge upheld the legality of a suit to force reapportionment of the Kansas Legislature.
In Topeka, Judge Marion Beatty issued the first ruling in Kansas that a district court can consider reapportionment and that such a suit can be brought by individuals – in this case, by Jack Harris, Peter Macdonald, John McCormally, the Hutchinson News, and Ernest Johnson (editor of the Olathe Daily News).
Jack Harris’ newspaper group, headquartered in Hutchinson, at that time included The News, with a circulation of more than 50,000 in central and southwest Kansas, and daily newspapers in Salina, Garden City, Olathe, Ottawa and Chanute at that time.
There was turmoil in Kansas and in other states, even in Washington on Capitol Hill, where Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois had proposed an amendment of the U.S. Constitution permitting one house of a state legislature to be apportioned on a basis other than population.
The turbulence was more rapid than that of other historic court decisions of the generation, including school desegregation. In June,1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that both houses of state legislatures must be apportioned on population.
The Kansas Supreme Court followed, ordering a reapportionment of the Kansas Senate.
And a federal court held that apportionment of Kansas congressional districts also had created too great an inequality, that they were invalid because of population disparities – from 479,000 in the (eastern) Third district to 540,000 in the (western) First. Reapportionment was ordered.
In another petition, also filed by Jack Harris, The Hutchinson News and others, Gov. John Anderson was named as defendant, and added that not only must the Kansas Legislature reapportion, but it must reapportion under the one-man, one-vote principle.
On March1, 1965, the state Supreme Court declared the apportionment of the Kansas House of Representatives unconstitutional.
Kansas had become ground zero in an American tumult over the right to equal representation from state capitols to Capitol Hill.
And here the incredible and formidable task of settling all the problems to the satisfaction of the courts belonged to the Kansas Legislature itself. The courts had given legislators one year – until April 1, 1966 – to get it done.
(Next: A special session)