Kentucky Supreme Court Supports GOP-Backed Congressional Boundaries

Kentucky’s Supreme Court affirmed Republican-drawn state House and congressional district lines on Thursday, rejecting Democratic arguments that the ruling party’s mapmaking amounted to gerrymandering in violation of the state constitution.

The court pointed out that a different proposal would have resulted in virtually the same lopsided advantage for Republicans in Kentucky House elections and would not have changed the GOP’s 5-1 edge in U.S. House seats from the Bluegrass State.

In early 2022, the GOP-dominated legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes to adopt the new district borders. The new maps were utilized in the election last year.

The justices described redistricting as an “inherently political process” that the legislature is responsible for.

“An expectation that apportionment will be free of partisan considerations would thus not only be unrealistic, but also inconsistent with our constitution’s assignment of responsibility for that process to an elected political body,” majority decision author Justice Angela McCormick Bisig wrote.

The court determined that the once-every-decade mapping did not violate Kentucky’s constitution. It affirmed a lower court finding that decided the new lines constituted “partisan gerrymandering,” but stated the constitution does not clearly prohibit taking partisan considerations into account during redistricting.

The state Democratic Party and other people, including Democratic state Rep. Derrick Graham, have challenged the revised maps. According to their lawsuit, the altered lines reflected “extreme partisan gerrymandering” in violation of the state constitution. The state House map, it alleged, divided certain counties into many districts in order to “dilute the influence” of Democratic voters.

Kentucky Supreme Court Supports GOP-Backed Congressional Boundaries

Republicans boosted their legislative supermajorities after the new districts went into effect in the midterm elections last November. Several Democratic state House members were defeated in reelection bids when Republican-friendly terrain was added to their districts.

Democrats’ main opposition to the altered congressional borders focused on an expansion of the broad 1st Congressional District, which is primarily in western Kentucky, to include Franklin County, which is home to Frankfort, Kentucky’s capital city in central Kentucky.

Rep. James Comer, a prominent Republican, represents the 1st Congressional District. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Comer has been at the center of the House GOP’s impeachment investigation of President Joe Biden.

Comer and his wife live in Kentucky’s Monroe and Franklin counties. When he was state agriculture commissioner and his work was centered in Frankfort, they bought the Franklin County home.

Democrats had exclusive control over determining legislative borders for decades, but that power was split once the GOP seized control of the state Senate. The legislature reconfigured districts for the first time since Republicans consolidated control of the house last year. Following the 2016 election, the Republicans took control of the state House.

The GOP captured 80 of the 100 state House seats in last year’s election. Republicans were anticipated to gain at least 77 seats under an alternate plan relied on by the plaintiffs, according to the Supreme Court.

“We take note of the fact that every seat is important,” Bisig wrote. The court determined that a three-seat discrepancy in the 100-seat Kentucky House did not constitute a “clear, flagrant, and unwarranted” violation of constitutional rights.

State GOP spokesman Sean Southard said the high court rightly rejected Democrats’ “pathetic attempt” to overturn Kentucky’s congressional and state House boundaries.

Kentucky House Democratic leaders expressed their displeasure with the verdict. “It gives legislative majorities much more authority to protect themselves at the expense of many voters while guaranteeing more political polarization for decades to come,” the group said in a press release.

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