By Jack Brammer
PDF: Read the lawsuit
FRANKFORT — House Republicans filed a lawsuit Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court to challenge a redrawing of state House districts that Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law last week.
The suit affects all of House Bill 1, which also redrew boundaries for state Senate and Supreme Court districts, said Louisville attorney Jason Nemes, who is representing the Republicans.
“If one part of the bill is declared unconstitutional, then the whole bill is unconstitutional,” Nemes said.
Sen. Kathy Stein, a Democrat whose Lexington district was moved to northeastern Kentucky, said it’s “highly likely” that she and some Fayette County residents will join the lawsuit.
“I’ve had several constituents — Democrats and Republicans alike — say they would be willing to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit. This may certainly well be a vehicle to get it in front of the court as expediently and efficiently as possible,” she said.
Stein said she hopes to decide before Monday whether to join the lawsuit.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd is to hear at 10:30 a.m. Monday the Republican request for a temporary injunction to delay the Jan. 31 filing deadline for candidates.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he doesn’t believe the House Republicans’ challenge has merit.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, called the redistricting plan unconstitutional.
“We have been saying for a couple of weeks now that not only was it unfair to the people of Kentucky, not only did it disenfranchise a lot of folks in Kentucky, but it was unconstitutional,” Hoover said at a news conference at the Franklin County Courthouse soon after the lawsuit was filed.
The 20-page lawsuit claims that redistricting done by the Democratic-controlled House is unconstitutional because it divides more counties than necessary. The House plan split 28 counties and 246 precincts, although only 22 counties have populations that exceed the roughly 43,000 people that each district must contain. A GOP proposal would have split 24 counties and 10 precincts in a GOP proposal.
The GOP suit also contends that the House map violates the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote,” which requires districts to have about the same population, and penalizes Republican voters and representatives because of their party affiliation.
The Republicans also noted irregular boundaries in the map. For example, a slender slice of Pulaski County is used to connect a district that spans from Casey County to northern Madison County. Similarly, Jackson County and McCreary County are connected in the 89th district by a jagged strip of land that bisects Laurel County.
The House redistricting plan put nine Republicans in districts with other incumbents. One had three Republicans in the same district. The Senate plan put 10 incumbents in districts with another incumbent.
Redistricting is required every 10 years to conform to population changes in the U.S. Census.
Plaintiffs in the suit are Republican Reps. Hoover, Joe Fischer of Ft. Thomas and Kim King of Harrodsburg and citizens Frey Todd of Eubank and Anthony Gaydos of Vanceburg.
Defendants are Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state’s chief elections officer; Attorney General Jack Conway; and the state Board of Elections.
Stumbo said the House split a minimum number of counties and that the Constitution says that is permissible.
The previous House redistricting plan split six counties above the minimum, and the current plan does likewise, Stumbo added.
No state tax dollars are being used to pay for the GOP lawsuit, Hoover said. He said private individuals are funding it. Neither Hoover nor Nemes would identify them.
Fischer, who filed a similar lawsuit after the 1990 census, said this year’s lawsuit is much stronger.
“Lingering effects” of how the House district boundaries were reconfigured could hurt legislative work on other policy issues in this year’s General Assembly, Hoover said.
Senate Minority Leader R. J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said if the Republicans are successful in getting the filing deadline for candidates delayed, “obviously that would complicate” other issues from going forward in the legislature.
Also, former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard Democrat, publicly criticized Thursday the newly adopted House and Senate redistricting maps.
“While many will say redistricting is just politics as usual, it is much more than that,” Mongiardo said in a release. “The redistricting plans recently passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor was an exercise in hyper-partisanship that disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of citizens and should be overturned.”
Mongiardo said he backs legislation creating an independent commission to handle redistricting.