LEXINGTON, Ky. — (TNS) A motion by the Kentucky Democratic Party and Democratic voters in Franklin County to block new, Republican-drawn redistricting maps from taking effect was denied by Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate on Thursday.
However, the judge also kept the case alive in his court by denying Secretary of State Michael Adams’ motion to dismiss the complaint against the maps. Democrats across the state and in Frankfort have decried the new House and U.S. Congressional District maps – those two, not the new Senate map, are being challenged – as both unfair to the scores of voters who vote for Democrats in statewide elections and potentially unconstitutional because of a requirement that map-drawers minimally split counties.
In his orders, Wingate set a full hearing on the matter for March 1.
Last week, the complaint saw its first day in court with Louisville attorney Michael Abate arguing that the new House map split the minimal amount of counties, but split those counties 20 more times than an alternative proposal from Democrats.
Litigators from the Office of Attorney General Daniel Cameron intervened on behalf of the state, arguing that it was too late in the game to change the maps and that the maps did not violate the constitution because the courts had already decided that counties being split multiple times did not matter as long as a minimal number of total counties were split. In this case, both Republicans and Democrats’ proposals split 23 counties, but Republicans split those counties a total of 80 times compared to Democrats’ 60.
Wingate said during that hearing that he expects to rule on the case by mid-March and that the Kentucky Supreme Court will have final authority after the losing side appeals his ruling.
Without touching on the merits of the Democrats’ complaints against the maps, Wingate stated in his order that the “status quo” is the newly-passed maps made law by House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3, echoing comments he made about “chaos” that might ensue if he blocked the maps now this close to the May primary.
He also said that the plaintiffs should have filed their motion before the filing deadline expired.
“Granting injunctive relief will upend the status quo. In this Order, the Court is 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,” Wingate wrote in the order.
He also said that an injunction would have hurt both Adams’ election efforts and those of local election offices.
During last week’s hearing, Wingate also expressed some sympathy with Democrats’ arguments, particularly with the extension of the 1st Congressional District up to Franklin County – a move that’s widely expected to benefit 6th District Congressman Andy Barr, and other future Republicans’ election odds.
Adams and Cameron, both Republicans, released statements celebrating Wingate’s denial of the Democrats’ motion. Cameron said his office’s argument is backed up by “more than a century” of precedent while Adams called the lawsuit “reckless.”
“Governor Beshear worked with me in good faith to ensure a smooth election in 2020,” Adams said. “Now I urge his party to act in good faith to ensure a smooth election in 2022 by dropping this reckless lawsuit.”
A full hearing on the suit is scheduled for March 1, 9:30 a.m. in Franklin Circuit Court.