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GOP redistricting measures draw court challenge in Kentucky

January 21, 2022 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s newly drawn congressional and state House maps drew a swift court challenge Thursday as GOP lawmakers overrode the Democratic governor’s vetoes of the redistricting bills.

The lawsuit claimed the boundaries approved by the Republican-dominated legislature reflected “extreme partisan gerrymandering” in violation of the state constitution. The bills’ leading supporters said they’re confident the once-a-decade mapmaking would hold up against any suit.

Senate President Robert Stivers said Thursday that the new congressional map “meets legal and constitutional requirements and adheres to applicable case law.” House Speaker David Osborne said the new Kentucky House boundaries complied with “all legal considerations.”

“I’m very, very confident that the map will withstand any challenge,” Osborne said.

GOP lawmakers pushed through redistricting bills in the first week of this year’s legislative session.

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The lawsuit contends the state House map divided some of Kentucky’s most populated counties into multiple districts to “dilute the influence” of Democratic voters in those areas. The goal was to cement the House’s GOP supermajority and stifle “any effective dissent,” the suit said.

“The maps were drawn to punish and diminish Democratic voters’ influence by using their past voting patterns to select Democratic-leaning precincts and specifically pair them with other areas that would more than cancel out their voting power,” the suit said.

Osborne defended the mapmaking work for the 100 Kentucky House districts.

“It splits no precincts, divides the fewest number of counties possible and preserves communities of interest,” the speaker said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the new congressional map would “improperly” remove Franklin County from the 6th District, the lawsuit said. The GOP plan extended the oddly shaped 1st District deeper into central Kentucky to take in Franklin County, which includes Democratic-leaning Frankfort. The 1st District, a Republican stronghold, is predominantly based in western Kentucky.

The redrawn boundaries would likely benefit 6th District Republican Rep. Andy Barr, the only Kentucky congressman to face a tough reelection campaign in recent years. Moving Franklin County out of the 6th would likely turn the traditional swing district increasingly red.

In reshaping the state’s six congressional districts, GOP lawmakers kept the only Democratic-held district basically intact. Democrats had fretted that the Louisville-area 3rd District might be carved up. Instead, under the GOP-passed plan the 3rd District would continue to cover most of Jefferson County, which includes Louisville — the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold.

The lawsuit was filed by several Franklin County residents, along with Democratic state Rep. Derrick Graham and the state Democratic Party. The suit was filed in Franklin County Circuit Court.

The suit requested quick court action to prevent the state’s 2022 primary election from being based on the new congressional and state House boundaries.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the congressional and state House maps Wednesday. He said the boundaries reflected “unconstitutional political gerrymandering.”

As expected, Republican lawmakers quickly overrode the vetoes Thursday, though not every GOP member supported the new maps. Republican Sen. Adrienne Southworth said her district would be carved into multiple congressional districts.

“That’s just not acceptable,” she said.

In another development, a newly filed bill would push back to summer this year’s spring primary in Kentucky — a backup plan in case the new redistricting maps get bogged down in court.

The legislation would delay the primary until Aug. 2 and would set a new filing deadline for candidates on May 31. The primary is currently set for May 17. The filing deadline for candidates — already delayed once — is now set for Jan. 25.