FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Supreme Court has blocked implementation of the newly drawn boundaries for state legislative districts, a move that will keep Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein's district in Lexington.
In a two-page order issued a few hours after hearing oral arguments in the case Friday morning, the state's highest court upheld Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd's ruling that this year's redistricting was unconstitutional.
"Until the General Assembly passes redistricting legislation that complies with Section 33 of the Kentucky Constitution, the terms of the injunction entered by the Franklin Circuit Court remain in place," the court said.
That means, the court said, that district boundaries enacted in 2002 remain in place, and the filing deadline for candidates to run from those districts was Feb. 10.
The court also said that because the case was expedited, a full opinion will come later. It did not provide guidance Friday about when the General Assembly should attempt to approve new redistricting legislation that is constitutional.
All six justices who heard the case agreed. Justice Will T. Scott recused himself from the case earlier this month because he is seeking re-election from a district that was redrawn in House Bill 1.
The Supreme Court's decision to uphold Shepherd's ruling is a victory for House Republicans and for Stein, who challenged the constitutionality of HB 1.
The issue had created uncertainty for state lawmakers because they did not know from which district they would run. All 100 state House seats and half of the 38 state Senate seats are up for election this year.
Democrats currently outnumber Republicans in the House 59-41.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he was "very thrilled with the ruling." Hoover said he will urge legislative leaders not to tackle redistricting again in this year's legislative session.
"Hopefully, the legislature will take this Supreme Court order and run in the old districts this year," Hoover said. "We already have many difficult issues to address this year in the legislative session, and don't need to get bogged down again with redistricting. We should at least wait until the Supreme Court gives us parameters for redistricting in its full opinion and follow those after this year's session."
Stein said she was "very pleased" with the court ruling, which nullified the General Assembly's decision to move her 13th District in inner Lexington to northeastern Kentucky.
Stein also said she agreed with Hoover that the legislature should not deal again with redistricting this session, which must end no later than April 15. She mentioned a possible special session.
"It would be very difficult to do redistricting this session, especially with all the issues that face us and the deadlines state election officials have to meet for this year's races," Stein said.
Her attorney, Scott White, said the court's decision to ignore the wishes of leading lawmakers was "a courageous act."
White told the high court during oral arguments that "this is really an easy case."
Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Stumbo was involved in budget discussions Friday "and does not have a comment on the Supreme Court ruling at this time."
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he accepted the court's decision.
"We stand prepared to run in the old districts or draw new legislative lines, if the House is so inclined, in conformity with the Supreme Court ruling," Williams said.
Sheryl Snyder, an attorney for legislative leaders, said via email that he was disappointed with the ruling but pleased that the court "issued an order today to bring certainty to the 2012 legislative elections."
Circuit Judge Shepherd ruled Feb. 7 that the new legislative districts, which lawmakers approved and Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law last month, were unconstitutional. Shepherd also ordered election officials to use previous district lines in this year's state legislative elections.
Shepherd said HB 1 was unconstitutional because it allowed some districts to vary by more than 5 percent from the ideal population size and divided more counties into separate legislative districts than necessary.
Legislative leaders appealed Shepherd's ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which sent it to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Snyder argued before the Supreme Court on Friday that the legislature used proper standards this year in redrawing district boundaries and needed flexibility in splitting counties.
But Victor Maddox, attorney for the House Republicans, argued that the state already has flexible rules for redistricting and that the legislature violated them.
If lawmakers are given more flexibility in redistricting, "next time, no one will know what the standards will be," Maddox said.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years to account for population changes reported in the U.S. Census.
Lynn Zellen, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said the office will certify legislative candidates to the county clerks on Monday under the Supreme Court ruling.
She said candidates who filed to run in the now-scrapped legislative districts won't get their $200 filing fees refunded.
However, the secretary of state won't disqualify any candidates who, because of their home address and Friday's court decision, now find themselves in the wrong district, Zellen said.
Such residency challenges will fall to voters, political opponents or other third parties, she said.