ADVERTISEMENT

Judge refuses to block new GOP-drawn districts in Kentucky

February 17, 2022 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A judge refused to temporarily block Kentucky’s newly drawn congressional and state House maps on Thursday, dealing an initial setback to Democrats challenging the use of the Republican-crafted boundaries in this year’s elections.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that Democrats’ request for a temporary injunction was filed too late, coming after the late-January filing deadline for candidates.

Blocking the new maps now would “throw the election process into disarray,” Wingate said, noting that election officials have spent considerable time preparing for this year’s elections.

“The public has a genuine interest in fairly and efficiently electing state and congressional representatives and granting injunctive relief would cause grave harm to said ability,” he added.

The judge said he was “in no way assessing the validity” of the plaintiffs’ claims in denying the motion to temporarily block the new maps. The high-stakes case ultimately could end up before Kentucky’s Supreme Court.

ADVERTISEMENT

Also on Thursday, Wingate denied a motion to dismiss the Democrats’ lawsuit. He set a full hearing on the matter for March 1.

The suit claims that the congressional and state House boundaries approved by the Republican-dominated legislature last month reflected “extreme partisan gerrymandering” in violation of the state constitution. They said the new state House map splits counties too many times.

In defending the new district boundaries, Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office said that changing the maps now would cause chaos. Responding to Wingate’s ruling, Cameron said Thursday that the maps are “clear, constitutional and workable.”

“The maps fairly apportion Kentuckians according to state and federal constitutional requirements, and both Republican and Democratic candidates for state House and United States Congress filed for election using these maps,” Cameron said.

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said Democrats should drop the legal fight, pointing to his prior bipartisan work with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on pandemic-related election rules.

“Governor Beshear worked with me in good faith to ensure a smooth election in 2020,” Adams said. “Now I urge his party to act in good faith to ensure a smooth election in 2022 by dropping this reckless lawsuit.”

Democrats signaled they’re in no mood to concede their legal fight.

“These preliminary rulings do not address the merits of the case,” state Democratic Chair Colmon Elridge said, noting that the judge will hear more evidence before ruling on the overall case.

He said the new state House maps “intentionally slice up cities and counties” to, among other things, “dilute the voices of minority communities.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The lawsuit was filed by several Franklin County residents, along with Democratic state Rep. Derrick Graham and the state Democratic Party. The suit asks the court to order that new maps be drawn or use maps enacted in 2013 for elections this year.

In his ruling Thursday, Wingate said that temporarily blocking the new maps would “upend the status quo” — reflected in the new districts enacted last month.

“Notably, plaintiffs cannot point to one instance in which a court has granted injunctive relief to reopen a filing deadline, or create a new filing deadline, and order candidates to refile based on outdated districts or districts not yet in existence,” the judge wrote. “Nor can plaintiffs cite to any authority that grants the court such power.”

Wingate noted that the legislature sets filing deadlines for Kentucky elections.

“The court respects Kentucky’s strong separation of powers and will not usurp the role of the General Assembly and legislate from the bench,” the judge said.

The lawsuit claims the new congressional map would “improperly” remove Franklin County from the 6th District. The GOP plan extended the oddly shaped 1st District deeper into central Kentucky to take in Franklin County, which includes Democratic-leaning Frankfort. The 1st District, a Republican stronghold, is predominantly based in western Kentucky.

The redrawn boundaries would likely benefit 6th District Republican Rep. Andy Barr, the only Kentucky congressman to face a tough reelection campaign in recent years. Moving Franklin County out of the 6th would likely turn the traditional swing district increasingly red.

In reshaping the state’s six congressional districts, GOP lawmakers kept intact the Louisville-area 3rd District — the only Democratic-held district in Kentucky.