Constitutional amendment to require judicial redistricting 'totally unnecessary,' Chief Justice Minton says

03/20/2016 10:13 AM

FRANKFORT — For year’s some in the legislature have sought to force the judicial branch to redistrict, but this time around Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. says opening up the state’s Constitution is the wrong way to mandate the change.

Every 10 years the House and Senate redraw legislative districts to mirror population shifts and ensure every person has a vote. This year an amendment to Kentucky’s Constitution is seeking to ensure that judicial districts also more closely follow population and now caseloads.

Senate Bill 8 proposed by Sen. John Schicekl, R-Union, has cleared the full Senate with a 26-12 vote in the upper chamber.

Schickel’s amendment would create a new section of the state Constitution to include a requirement that the Supreme Court propose redrawing circuit and district lines if they are significantly unbalanced regarding population or caseload.

The bill would also amend Section 97 of the Constitution of Kentucky to elect Circuit Court Clerks and Commonwealth’s Attorneys to four-year terms in 2018 and to elect them to eight-year terms in 2022 and every eight years thereafter.

“It’s an equal justice under the law issue because here in Kentucky we don’t have court systems that are equitable and equal,” Shickel said. “We have some court systems that are overwhelmed and then we have other court systems that are almost part-time.

“It’s also an economic issue because as you know the judicial branch has requested additional funding — they need additional funding, but we can’t pour additional money into a system until it’s equitably arranged.”

Chief Justice Minton disagrees, saying changing the state’s Constitution is “totally unnecessary” in this instance.

“It is a myth to say this is all driven by population — that seems to be what has driven this effort,” Minton said. “It has to do with the ability of the courts and whether the courts are appropriately providing access to justice uniformly across the state.”

Minton said they are concerned about delivering justice uniformly, and he said the courts are taking steps to ensure that’s done. But he believes redistricting every 10 years and opening up the state’s Constitution to mandate that change is a step too far.

The chief justice also said the courts have been in engaged in that process over the past several years to determine work loads.


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