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Franklin Judge Wingate denies Democrats effort to block redistricting maps but orders suits to continue

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate turned down a request Thursday by the Kentucky Democratic Party and Democratic voters in Franklin County to block temporarily the Republican-drawn maps of state House and Congressional districts.

However, Wingate also decided not to dismiss the Democrats’ lawsuit, a request made by Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office representing the defendants, Secretary of State Michael Adams and the State Elections Board.

Judge Thomas Wingate

The judge has set a full hearing on the lawsuit for 9:30 a.m. March 1.

Covington is keeping a close eye on the lawsuit. Mayor Joe Meyer and the city’s commission oppose the new maps that split the city into three state House districts instead of one.

Democrats filed the suit Jan. 20, contending that the new maps violated the Kentucky Constitution and amount to “extreme partisan gerrymandering” that unfairly treats Democrats.

The lawsuit contends that 13 counties, including Campbell, and several cities, including Covington, were split too much.

Vic Maddox, associate attorney general, told the judge at a hearing last week that the law that created the new maps is “clear, constitutional and workable.”

He also said an unfavorable court ruling against the new maps would create “chaos’ because copies of the ballots for the May 17 primary election had to be sent to a printing vendor by Feb. 23.

Michael Abate, a Louisville attorney representing the Democrats, said a vendor’s contract should not take precedence over the Constitution.

In his rulings Thursday, Judge Wingate stressed that his decision not to grant the Democrats’ request for a temporary injunction was “in no way assessing the validity of plaintiffs’ claims, and plaintiffs may ultimately prevail on the merits, but there was a time to seek injunctive relief, and that was before the expiration of the filing deadline on January 25.”

He also said an injunction would have hurt the work of the Secretary of State’s office and local election offices to get ready for the May 17 primary elections.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge issued a statement recognizing the judge’s decision not to dismiss the suit but was silent on the judge’s denial of a temporary injunction.

Elridge said, “Today, the court rejected the defendants’ arguments that our challenge to the unconstitutional districts should be dismissed and is taking the claims of concerned Kentuckians seriously.

“These preliminary rulings do not address the merits of the case and the court wants to hear more evidence and hear from experts before deciding the case in the expedited hearing set for March 1.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in a statement that the court ruling to dismiss the Democrats’ temporary injection request is “another win for the representative branch of state government.”

“The court rightly identified the Kentucky Democratic Party’s lack of timeliness, as the filing deadline had passed. Judge Wingate noted it is not in the public interest to change the filing deadline, saying he is refusing ‘to serve as the ringmaster of a three-ring circus by creating a new filing deadline and throwing the 2022 election cycle into turmoil.’”

Stivers did not mention Wingate’s decision not to dismiss the lawsuit.

The question about the constitutionality of the new maps may go all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

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