Federal court ruling could mean legislative leaders need to find more votes for district maps

08/19/2013 06:43 PM

UPDATED: As lawmakers began their five-day special session to approve new district maps, a federal court ruling from Friday could make legislative leaders’ job this week tougher by requiring them to drum up extra votes for the maps.

Friday a panel of federal judges ruled that the current district maps, which were drawn in 2002, couldn’t be used anymore because the populations of the districts were so out-of-whack. The old maps were only still in use because lawmakers failed last year to pass new district lines that adhered to constitutional requirements. And the ACLU had challenged the legitimacy of those old maps in the interim.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed a motion Monday asking the court to give the OK to stick with the old maps until the the 2014 election when candidates will run for newly-drawn districts in the maps lawmakers are taking up this week. The court gave the ACLU and other parties 24 hours to respond but offered no timeline for a decision.

Pierce Whites, a lawyer for Stumbo, argued Monday that the court should decide as soon as possible because it will determine whether the General Assembly needs to stick an “emergency clause” on the maps the House and Senate are working on this week. Passing a bill with an emergency clause allows the governor to put it into effect upon his signature. But it requires a majority of the House to pass the bill with the clause.

So House leaders would have to whip up at least 10 more votes between now and when its proposed map comes up for a vote on Wednesday. House Democrats control the chamber 55-45.

On a conference call with the judges on Monday, Whites’ said House leaders have two main problems with the court’s decision. He said if the ’02 maps are tossed out, there would be a gap until the 2014 elections in which no legislative districts would be in effect. Thus, if a lawmaker were to be incapacitated or resign, then then there wouldn’t be a district for which the governor could call a special election.

Candidates would have to run statewide for a seat in the legislature, and the costs would be enormous, he said.

Before the conference call Stumbo, offered his opinion on the ruling saying he believes the judges didn’t understand the effect of their decision.

“I don’t think the court considered the possibility of a vacancy of a special election which would only fill the unexpired term, because if the new plan were enacted, for example, and there were a vacancy in many areas people would be left without representation theoretically because of the overlap in the districts between the two plans,” Stumbo said.

Stumbo told reporters that he would wait to see what the court says before he decides on an emergency clause. He can wait until Wednesday morning and offer a floor amendment to attach the emergency clause under suspension of House rules.

The judges in the case decided to confer after the conference call and decide how to rule on the motion to return to the 2002 lines until the special session is completed and new maps become law.

The Kentucky Supreme Court chose to keep the flawed 2002 map in place not seeing an alternative after throwing the 2012 redistricting plan out.

There is also a possibility the House map could change at the precinct level to accommodate requests for minor changes. For instance, Republican Rep. Ron Crimm from Louisville told Stumbo he would be in a separate precinct than his son, whom he would like to represent. Stumbo said they’re going to work with Crimm and asked other members who have problems with the map to speak to Democratic leadership in the House. That’s different from this March, when House Democrats voted down efforts by some Republicans, such as Rep. Jonathan Shell of Lancaster, to alter some precincts.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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