To appeal or not to appeal was Wednesday's question of the day in the halls of the state Capitol. Here's one vote for appeal, but not because we think Judge Phillip Shepherd got it wrong when he enjoined state election officials from implementing the legislative redistricting plan recently passed by the General Assembly.
To the contrary, Shepherd's ruling appears to be in complete agreement with Kentucky's current case law on the subject. But as Shepherd noted in his written decision, current case law has had some "unintended consequences." An appeal of his decision would give the state Supreme Court a chance to address those consequences.
The prevailing case law on redistricting comes from a 1990s Supreme Court decision, in which the court sought to balance the federal "one person, one vote" mandate with the state constitution's provisions on splitting counties in the redistricting process.
The decision said districts with populations that were no more than 5 percent larger or 5 percent smaller than the ideal met the federal mandate. The decision also said the legislature should "make maximum use" of the 10 percent variance to avoid splitting more counties than necessary in the redistricting process.
As Shepherd noted in his decision, the practical effect has been that subsequent redistricting plans start out with a 10 percent deviation in the population of districts, a gap that quickly widens due to normal population movements,
In drawing congressional district lines, Kentucky lawmakers adhere as closely as possible to the "one person, one vote" principle.
But in crafting their own boundaries, they create districts that start out unequal and quickly get even more unequal — just because of an antiquated provision in an antiquated state constitution.
In his decision, Shepherd wrote that many of the government functions once performed at the county level now are handled at the state level, adding, "All of these considerations militate in favor of giving greater weight to population equality than county integrity when those values clash, as they inevitably do. Those considerations, however, must be addressed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, not to a trial court that is required to apply the binding precedent ..."
That's why the vote here is for appeal.
Meanwhile, the legislature must reform its approach to redistricting so that sound principles, not political expediency, drive future decisions, even if it requires a constitutional amendment to accomplish.