Divided Kentucky Supreme Court rules redistricting plans can stay

Published 3:51 pm Thursday, December 14, 2023

A sharply divided Kentucky Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that the 2022 legislative and Congressional redistricting plans were not partisan enough to justify throwing them out and requiring new plans to be enacted.

The justices delivered an eight-part decision, six of which were adopted on a 4-3 vote, while the other two were approved 5-2.

A majority of the justices stated in their 75-page opinion:

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“In considering constitutional challenges to the General Assembly’s apportionment plans, including claims of unconstitutional partisanship, we apply a substantially deferential standard given the political nature of the apportionment process.  We will find such a plan unconstitutional if it involves a clear, flagrant, and unwarranted deviation from constitutional limitations, or if its effects are so severe as to threaten our democratic form of government.”

However, they noted, “The alleged partisanship in the crafting of the Apportionment Plans does not rise to the level of a clear, flagrant, or unwarranted deviation from constitutional limitations or a threat to our democratic form of government.  Nor do we perceive in the Apportionment Plans any violation of the constitutional guarantees of free and fair elections, equal protection, freedom of speech and assembly, or freedom from arbitrary government action.”

The majority opinion went on to say, “We further reaffirm that where full compliance with Section 33 [of the Kentucky Constitution] is not possible in the crafting of state legislative districts, the General Assembly must satisfy the dual mandates of population equality and county integrity set forth in Fischer II [a prior redistricting case] in order to comply with Section 33.  Under such circumstances, the General Assembly may deviate from literal criteria and limitations of Section 33, even when not strictly necessary, provided it does not do so in a manner that either clearly and flagrantly disregards the fundamental purpose of Section 33 in promoting population equality and county integrity in the apportionment process, or threatens the democratic form of government.”

Their bottom line: “The particulars of HB 2 [the House redistricting bill] reveal no such disregard or threat and we thus find that it complies with Section 33. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.”

Reacting to the high court ruling, Kentucky House Democratic Caucus leaders Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts, issued this statement:

“It has often been said that voters should be the ones who choose their leaders, not the other way around. We still believe in that, which is why we firmly disagree with today’s Kentucky Supreme Court decision. It gives legislative majorities much more authority to protect themselves at the expense of many voters while guaranteeing more political polarization for decades to come.

“The current congressional and state House maps are textbook examples of extreme partisan gerrymandering, from how they were drawn in secret to how they effectively decided the outcome of most races by the end of the primary. This entire process should have been rejected today; instead, we fear it will now become standard procedure.”

Secretary of State Michael Adams, who was a named defendant in the suit, said, “I’m pleased that today, in Graham v. Adams, our nonpartisan Supreme Court overwhelmingly rejected the Kentucky Democratic Party’s reckless, frivolous and hypocritical lawsuit that sought to impose a different set of election rules through the courts, following Democrats’ loss of legislative control that they had previously won for decades under those very rules.”