Northern Kentucky residents and the American Civil Liberties Union had until 5 p.m. today to respond to House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s motion to reinstate 2002 redistricting lines to fill any vacancies in the Legislature by special election before next year’s election cycle.
The federal three-judge panel overseeing the case set no deadline on a ruling, and attorneys for Stumbo argued during a teleconference Monday that a lengthy delay could jeopardize plans to adjourn the special session after five days. Special sessions cost taxpayers about $60,000 per day.
The court’s ruling could also make necessary an emergency clause for the new redistricting maps to take effect immediately, which would require an amendment to House Bill 1 and a constitutional majority in both chambers to pass — 51 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate.
The judges struck down the 2002 redistricting maps as unconstitutional Friday, essentially leaving Kentucky without legislative boundaries.
Last year’s elections were held under the 2002 districts by order of the Kentucky Supreme Court after the high court found House and Senate redistricting maps passed during the 2012 session unconstitutional.
The 2012 elections prompted federal lawsuits from northern Kentucky and Louisville residents, claiming population shifts in the 2010 U.S. Census left them with malapportioned representation in the General Assembly.
The federal court’s ruling could complicate any potential special election to fill vacancies that could arise between the time the maps are adopted and the 2014 election cycle, Pierce Whites, Stumbo’s general counsel, argued Monday, the first day of a special session to handle redistricting.
Whites is asking the court to amend its decision to allow any special elections to take place under the 2002 redistricting maps prior to next year’s elections.
“The point is we need some lines, and the high court of Kentucky found that it is preferable to have these admittedly flawed lines rather than no lines,” Whites said. “I think that’s the choice.”
Attorneys for northern Kentucky residents and the ACLU argued against Whites’ motion to partially reinstate the unconstitutional lines.
William Sharp, representing the ACLU, called Whites’ argument “speculative,” saying there’s a chance no special elections will be necessary and the Legislature has more than enough time to bring to the court questions of how to handle special elections before ballots are cast.
Chris Wiest, attorney for the northern Kentuckians, said the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in the mid-1990s that vacancies in the General Assembly would be filled by special statewide elections if no legislative boundaries exist.
“The Kentucky Supreme Court demands in this instance what happens, and that is at-large elections are held until a constitutional reapportionment plan is had,” Wiest said, noting he plans to challenge the constitutionality of the redistricting plan moving through the House this week.
Two of the three judges appeared to agree with Whites’ argument to some degree.
“At first blush, it does seem reasonable,” Judge Danny Boggs said of Whites’ motion.
U.S. District Judge William Bertlesman said Whites’ argument to make an exception for special elections “makes sense after I thought about it for a while.”
“You can’t take a piece from the old sort of jigsaw puzzle and put it in the new jigsaw puzzle,” Bertlesman said. “If there’s a vacancy, if an incumbent now would have to be replaced, the special election would have to be held under the existing plan because the new district might be a different shape.”