Republicans sue House for faulty redistricting

By Kevin Wheatley Published:

A Frankfort legislator says he expects the House’s redistricting map will be declared unconstitutional while another says the process itself needs to be revised.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover and others filed a lawsuit challenging the House’s redistricting map in Franklin Circuit Court Thursday.

The suit seeks an injunction to delay implementing the redistricting plan and postponing Tuesday’s election filing deadline until the matter is resolved. 

It says the Democratic House’s map of new legislative districts is unconstitutional because it divides too many counties, places some counties in noncontiguous districts and puts some Republicans in districts with higher populations than their Democratic counterparts.

Hoover cited two examples of noncontiguous districts: the 80th, which connects Casey County with Rockcastle County and western Madison County using a small portion of Pulaski County, and the 89th, which connects McCreary and Jackson counties using a zigzag of precincts through Laurel County. 

“That’s not what the court has determined to be contiguous,” Hoover said. He was joined in the lawsuit by Rep. Joe Fischer of Fort Thomas, Rep. Kim King of Harrodsburg, Eubanks Mayor Frey Todd and Lewis County resident Anthony Gaydos.

Sen. Julian Carroll, a retired attorney, says he doesn’t see how the House map will stand on constitutional grounds with the division of counties with small populations and cutting through Pulaski and Laurel counties’ precincts to create noncontiguous districts.

“The law on contiguous counties does not allow you to include a strip through one county to get to another one,” said Carroll, D-Frankfort. “… That’s been struck down by the courts.”

While the lawsuit focuses on the constitutionality of the House’s redistricting plan, others – particularly Sen. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat whose district was moved to northeastern Kentucky – may join the suit since it encompasses the House, Senate and Supreme Court redistricting maps.

“I certainly have my eyes wide open,” Stein told The State Journal Thursday. 

“I haven’t had a chance to read the complete pleading yet, but it appears, just in the skimming I’ve done, that there’s some good arguments that’ve been made that I think would apply as well to what has happened in the Senate.”

Stein said she sent Hoover a text message indicating her possible interest but hadn’t spoken with him directly. She said she’ll decide by Monday whether to join the suit, which is scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. hearing that day.

Carroll said Stein has “some real great grounds” on challenging the Senate’s plan, especially if she can prove moving her district will disenfranchise her constituents. 

Under the plan, signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear last week, Stein’s district will be represented by Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, for two years before the next election.

If the court deems House Bill 1 unconstitutional and sends it back to the General Assembly, it would grind the current legislative session to a near halt, Carroll said.

Rep. Derrick Graham said House Republicans have “every right and every prerogative” to file suit and challenge the redistricting plan in court.

“This is probably the toughest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been (in the House),” Graham, D-Frankfort, said of the redistricting process.

“… I don’t necessarily agree with everything that happened in this particular bill, but it’s just the responsibility that we have. It’s not meant to be personal, but it becomes personal.”

Graham says he’s considered looking at other alternatives to lessen the political nature of redistricting, including possibly forming some sort of committee comprised of legislators from both parties and an independent, nonpartisan chairperson. He said his student assistant is looking at ways other states handle the process.

“I think it makes people not like the process, but it’s still the responsibility of the legislature to carry out,” Graham said.

 “You can’t get the whole bill you want. Sometimes you have to go with what the consensus is, but we really need to try to work on ways for the next time around to try to make it so that (redistricting) doesn’t disenfranchise anyone and allows people to decide … who they want through the election process.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo says he’s confident Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd will find the House’s redistricting plan constitutional.

“It takes a very, very, very high showing for a court to issue an injunction based upon a claim that something is unconstitutional,” he said Thursday. “Anybody can claim something’s unconstitutional, but the courts generally have adhered to the doctrine that they will wait and let that be tried upon its merits.”

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown and chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, has defended the Senate’s map, calling it constitutional and legal.

Kentucky now is one of 25 states with pending court cases involving redistricting, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School who tracks the legal challenges.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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