Politics & Government

Three-judge panel to rule soon on Kentucky legislative redistricting case

FRANKFORT — A panel of three federal judges will decide soon if two federal lawsuits that ask the judges to redraw Kentucky's legislative district boundaries should continue.

Pierce Whites, a lawyer for Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, argued that the court should stay the lawsuits until after lawmakers have had a chance to redraw the boundaries themselves in a special legislative session scheduled for August 19.

Chris Wiest, a lawyer representing several Northern Kentucky citizens, encouraged the judicial panel to proceed in case the legislature does not come to an agreement during the August special session.

After Friday's hearing in Lexington, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman said the judicial panel will make a decision as soon as possible.

In addition to Bertelsman, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove and U.S. Sixth Circuit Judge Danny Boggs have been assigned to the case.

The two lawsuits were filed this spring by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and a group of Northern Kentucky residents. The lawsuits claim that inaction by the General Assembly has left the public without adequate representation in the state legislature.

The legislature is required to redraw legislative district boundaries once every 10 years to account for population shifts. The General Assembly approved new legislative district boundaries in 2012 but the Kentucky Supreme Court later ruled those maps unconstitutional.

The Democrat-led House passed another redistricting plan in the 2013 legislative session but it was never considered by the Republican-led Senate.

The threat of federal court proceedings will put additional pressure on lawmakers to reach an agreement on redistricting in August, Whites said. In addition, the maps the legislature produce would be valuable for the three-judge panel to consider, he said.

Wiest urged the judges to start gathering information for their own redistricting plan, since it's likely the legislature's maps also will be challenged in court.

Van Tatenhove expressed concern that potential candidates in 2014 elections might not have enough time to file their paperwork if the judges wait until after August and the legislature's plan is again ruled unconstitutional.

"I'm more concerned about the logistics," Van Tatenhove said.

All 100 seats in the state House and half of the seats in the Senate are up for re-election in 2014. The filing deadline for candidates is in late January.

The judicial panel will also decide whether the two lawsuits should be consolidated or remain separate.

Bill Sharp, a lawyer for the ACLU, argued that the two cases should remain separate because it did not sue members of the General Assembly and made fewer claims than the suit filed on behalf of Northern Kentucky citizens. Lawyers for the Secretary of State and other state officials argued that the two cases should be combined because they deal with the same underlying issues.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader