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Franklin judge rules redrawn maps of districts are constitutional; but bills on use of state funds are not

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled Thursday that new boundary lines drawn by Republican legislators this year of state House districts and U.S. House districts are constitutional.

“The Kentucky Constitution does not explicitly prohibit the General Assembly from making partisan considerations during the apportionment process,” Wingate wrote in his 72-page ruling.

“The Court acknowledges that other states’ constitutions prohibit partisan gerrymandering or assign redistricting to a
nonpartisan committee, but this Court’s concern is only with the Kentucky Constitution.”

The ruling was a disappointment to Kentucky Democrats, who challenged the new maps. A spokeswoman for the Democrats said it was under review whether to appeal.

Judge Thomas Wingate

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office represented the redistricting in court, said, “Today, the Franklin Circuit Court agreed with our defense of House Bill  2 and Senate Bill 3, which created the redistricting maps for the Kentucky House of Representatives and Kentucky’s congressional districts.
“We are pleased that the court recognized the constitutionality of these laws and the authority of Kentucky’s elected representatives in the General Assembly to create redistricting plans.”

This was the first year Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, controlled the state’s redistricting process conducted every 10 years.

The Democratic Party, in its lawsuit, claimed the maps for Kentucky’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 100 seats in the state House were not constitutional.

Republicans benefited in this week’s elections from the new maps.

The GOP raised its membership in the 100-member House from 75 to 80, when they return in January for the 2023 General Assembly.

Democratic casualties in the House this week included House Minority Whip Angie Hatton of Whitesburg, Rep. Patti Minter of Bowling Green, Rep. Charles Miller of Louisville, Rep. Jeff Donohue of Fairdale and Rep. Buddy Wheatley of Covington.
Wheatley, an attorney and retired Covington fire chief, who lost by less than 300 points to Republican attorney Stephanie Dietz, vice president of the Northern Kentucky Bar Association in the 65th House district.

The district had been heavily redistricted to help Republicans.

The Kenton County Democratic Party took issue with claims made by Kenton County Republican Chair Shane Noem about the results of the election in the 65th district.

Noem had said the House victory for the GOP was because of “candidate quality.”

Kenton Democratic Party chief Noelle Bell noted a tweet by former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. He said the majority of credit for the GOP win was Tommy Druen, senior policy advisor in the Speaker’s office who helped drew the maps.

“They’ve been outed by one of their own who seems happy to admit that political gerrymandering produced an unfair advantage. Kentuckians deserve better,” said Bell.

Covington kept a close eye on the lawsuit. Mayor Joe Meyer
 and the city’s commission opposed 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 contended that 13 counties, including Campbell, and several cities, including Covington, were split too much.

House Bills limiting governor’s use of state funds unconstitutional

In another ruling Thursday, Judge Wingate ruled that this year’s House Bills 248 and 388 are unconstitutional. Gov. Andy Beshear had challenged both.

They would prohibit the governor from using state funds to legally challenge the constitutionality of any legislative act or resolution.

Attorney General Cameron, who defended the laws, said “We are disappointed by the Franklin Circuit Court’s ruling regarding the constitutionality of House Bills 248 and 388.

“Kentucky’s Constitution grants the General Assembly authority over spending and appropriations. We will appeal these rulings to ensure our elected representatives in the General Assembly have the ability to oversee the use of tax dollars.”

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