TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — A three-year battle over how to draw new state legislative lines has apparently come to a close as a three-judge federal panel issued its final order Thursday.
Judges William Bertelsman, Gregory Van Tatenhove, and Danny Boggs let stand the latest maps drawn by the General Assembly during an August special session but permanently enjoined the legislature and election officials from using the previous maps drawn in 2002.
That surprised Anna Whites, legal counsel for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who pointed out the 2013 law containing the new maps contains language specifically barring any future use of the 2002 maps.
Shortly before the August special session, the same court issued a temporary injunction and restraining order prohibiting use of the 2002 maps in any future elections. That led lawmakers to include that language in the bill they passed the following week.
Previously, there was some question about which maps should govern any special elections before the 2014 regular cycle legislative elections. Now, the two special elections scheduled for Dec. 10 will be conducted under the new, 2013 maps.
By issuing the permanent injunction, the federal court maintains jurisdiction in the case and the judges said they will allow plaintiffs in the case to seek to recover attorney fees.
But the judges noted that after the General Assembly passed House Bill 1 containing the latest maps in August, “none of the parties to this action filed objections to it” which, they write, “means that this Court has no authority to declare HB 1 constitutional.”
Whites called the ruling “great news for Kentucky voters.” She said the legislature in August “passed a good plan with strong bipartisan support which resolved this issue.”
Spokesmen for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented one of the plaintiffs called the ruling a “total victory.”
Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said the ruling “ensures that the state cannot return to its malapportioned, unconstitutional legislative districts.”
The controversy began in 2012 when lawmakers first set out to redraw legislative district boundaries after the 2010 U.S. Census as required by the federal and state constitutions. But the highly partisan maps passed in the 2012 General Assembly — favoring the majority Republican incumbents in the Senate and Democratic majority incumbents in the House — were deemed unconstitutional. The Kentucky Supreme Court found they violated the Kentucky Constitution by splitting too many counties and the U.S. Constitution’s requirement for equal representation among districts.
In 2013, the Democratic House passed a map governing its members’ districts but the Senate, controlled by a Republican majority, didn’t take up the plan or pass one of its own. Soon after the 2013 General Assembly, two groups separately sued the legislature in federal court.
That prompted Gov. Steve Beshear to call lawmakers into special session in August to pass constitutionally permissible maps. Again, each chamber drew its own map, but this time the minority parties did not object to the final maps and they were both passed by wide, bipartisan majorities and Beshear immediately signed them into law.
The legislation included an emergency clause, making them controlling law immediately upon the governor’s signature and requiring those lines and not those from the 2002 maps to be used to conduct any future elections.
Whites, Stumbo’s attorney, said Stumbo will oppose any attempt by the plaintiffs “to unfairly claim excessive attorney fees.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort .