UPDATE: Judge refuses to block new GOP-drawn districts in Kentucky
The ruling Thursday is an initial setback to Democrats challenging the Republican-crafted boundaries
UPDATE POSTED 2:45 P.M., FEBRUARY 17, 2022:
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) – A judge has refused to temporarily block Kentucky’s newly drawn congressional and state House maps. The ruling Thursday is an initial setback to Democrats challenging the Republican-crafted boundaries. The ruling came from Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate. He says Democrats’ request for a temporary injunction was filed too late, coming after the late-January filing deadline for candidates. Wingate says that blocking the new maps now would “throw the election process into disarray.”
Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams reacted to the ruling. “I’m grateful that Judge Wingate has ruled ‘[i]t is not in the public interest’ for the Kentucky Democratic Party to ‘throw the election process into disarray. Governor Beshear worked with me in good faith to ensure a smooth election in 2020. Now I urge his party to act in good faith to ensure a smooth election in 2022 by dropping this reckless lawsuit.”
Sebastian Kitchen, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Democratic Party released the following statement: “The Republican majority passed extremely gerrymandered, unconstitutional redistricting maps that silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians. Today, the court rejected the defendants’ arguments that our challenge to the unconstitutional districts should be dismissed and is taking the claims of concerned Kentuckians seriously. These preliminary rulings do not address the merits of the case and the court wants to hear more evidence and hear from experts before deciding the case in the expedited hearing set for March 1. These maps intentionally slice up cities and counties, reduce the number of women serving in the House and dilute the voices of minority communities.”
Senate President Robert Stivers says the court rightly identified the Kentucky Democratic Party’s lack of timeliness, as the filing deadline had passed. The Republican from Manchester called the ruling “another win for the representative branch of state government.”
UPDATE POSTED 5:30 P.M. JAN. 28, 2022
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – State Sen. Derrick Graham and others who have filed suit in Franklin County District Court challenging the state House and congressional redistricting maps approved by the Republican super-majorities in the House and Senate have asked a judge to issue an injunction blocking implementation of the new maps. The motion was filed late Friday (read it here 2022-01-28 Motion for Temporary Injunction(1057115.1)).
ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 3 P.M. JAN. 20, 2022
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Concerned Franklin County residents who say they would be disenfranchised by unconstitutional, partisan maps drawn by Republican lawmakers joined the Kentucky Democratic Party and House Democratic Caucus Chair Derrick Graham to file a lawsuit Thursday in Franklin District Court challenging the gerrymandered districts (click here for lawsuit 2022-01-20 Ky Redistricting Complaint (STAMPED)(1056259.1)).
“The General Assembly’s focus in creating these district maps wasn’t representation or democracy or even legality – their focus was on partisan politics, which is why they unnecessarily sliced up so many counties,” said plaintiff Joseph Smith. “Why else would I, a Franklin County resident, be sorted into the same congressional district as Paducah? I should pick my representatives – they shouldn’t pick me.”
“I believe the best legislation comes from public participation, but it’s clear the General Assembly kept their redistricting plan a secret until days before they passed it because it violates both the Constitution and the trust we place in our representatives,” said plaintiff Mary Lynn Collins. “Their maps weaken my voice, my representation and my vote by placing me and my neighbors in a gerrymandered district that stretches for hundreds of miles to the Mississippi River.”
Plaintiff Jill Robinson, a former county magistrate, said “the process was all about power and as a former elected official the toxicity of power is not good for democracy. When an elected official’s district has been drawn to assure their re-election they start to feel too comfortable in their position and they stop listening to constituents who express contrary views.”
“The process and the districts are deeply flawed. There were no public meetings, no hearings, no feedback, the new maps were rolled out at the last minute and passed immediately,” Robinson said. “That’s not good for democracy. We should take this process of redistricting as an opportunity for civil engagement rather than as a power grab.”
“These maps were drawn behind closed doors with no public input to silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians,” said KDP Chair Colmon Elridge. “We are joining residents who are disenfranchised by these gerrymandered districts to stop this partisan power grab. These maps intentionally slice up cities and counties, reduce the number of women serving in the House and dilute the voices of minority communities.”
Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the redistricting maps for the U.S. House and Kentucky House of Representatives on Wednesday, highlighting the Kentucky House map “is an unconstitutional gerrymander that prevents some communities from having their voice heard in Frankfort” and the congressional map done in secret “is not designed to provide fair representation to the people of Kentucky.”
Republican lawmakers, sticking with their maps drawn behind closed doors that have even drawn the ire of the very few groups they said they allegedly consulted with, immediately overrode the vetoes today.
The Kentucky Democratic Party, Chair Graham and Jill Robinson, Mary Lynn Collins, Katima Smith-Willis and Joseph Smith, Franklin County citizens concerned about their community being spliced and combined in a snaking congressional district that stretches through half the state, immediately filed the lawsuit in Franklin County to have the maps declared unconstitutional and invalid.
The lawsuit claims the maps violate sections 1, 2, 3, and 6 of the Kentucky Constitution by “arbitrarily denying the citizens of the Commonwealth the rights to a free and equal election, free expression, and free association” and the Republicans violated Section 33 of the Kentucky Constitution “by excessively and unnecessarily splitting counties into multiple districts without legitimate purpose, and impermissibly attaching portions of split counties to others more times than is necessary to achieve districts of roughly equal size….The maps’ excessive partisan gerrymandering and county splitting violate numerous provisions of Kentucky’s constitution.”
Among other things, examples listed in the lawsuit include:
Absurd Congressional District 1 – “District 1 is patently irregular, snaking all the way from the westernmost tip of the state up to Franklin County. To illustrate the geographical absurdity of District 1: if one chose to drive the full length of District 1, staying entirely within District 1, it would require driving approximately 370 miles and would take approximately 6 hours and 45 minutes. Even driving from Franklin to Fulton County traveling through the 2nd district would require almost 4 hours and 30 minutes.”
The lawsuit alleges Republicans drew the district so Congressman Jamie Comer would actually finally live in the Western Kentucky district he has represented for years.
Excessive Splitting — “The counties which are excessively split by HB 2 are Fayette (8 splits instead of 7 required), Boone (5 splits instead of 3 required), Hardin (4 splits instead of 2-3 required), Campbell (2 splits instead of 1 required), Madison (3 splits instead of 2 required), Bullitt (2 splits instead of 1 required), Christian (2 splits instead of 1 required), McCracken (3 splits instead of 1-2 required), Oldham (2 splits instead of 1 required), Pulaski (4 splits instead of 1 required), Laurel (5 splits instead of 1-3 required), Pike (3 splits instead of 1 required), and Jessamine (3 splits instead of 1 required). A range of required splits is provided for some counties because changes to the district splits in one county have a spillover effect into other counties.”
The groups filing the suit say they are optimistic based on challenges in other states.
“Kentucky’s constitution guarantees citizens the right to ‘free and equal’ elections, which requires elections be free from excessive partisan gerrymanders designed to silence the votes of those not in the majority party—including non-partisan voters. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, citing a provision that the Kentucky ‘free and equal’ elections clause is based upon, agreed and just last week, Ohio’s Supreme Court held that its constitution prohibits partisan gerrymandering,” the groups said.