WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Kentucky Supreme Court today upheld the state’s congressional and state House districts, concluding that while both sets of maps are partisan gerrymanders, neither one violates the Kentucky Constitution.
Today’s decision originates from a 2022 state-level lawsuit brought by the Kentucky Democratic Party, Democratic state Rep. Derrick Graham and voters. The Democratic plaintiffs alleged that the challenged districts unduly favor Republicans and unnecessarily split counties in violation of the Kentucky Constitution.
After holding a trial in April 2022, a lower court judge found that although the congressional and state House maps are partisan gerrymanders, “the Kentucky Constitution does not explicitly prohibit the General Assembly from making partisan considerations during the apportionment process.”
Nevertheless, the judge held that claims of partisan gerrymandering are justiciable — meaning that they are reviewable by Kentucky courts. In upholding the maps, the judge also rejected the plaintiffs’ other constitutional claims against the maps pertaining to the unnecessary splitting of counties into multiple districts.
Following this ruling, the parties cross-appealed the decision, which bypassed review by the Kentucky Court of Appeals and was instead heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
In today’s fractured majority opinion, the state Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling holding that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable, but concurrently maintained that the districts at issue in this case do not violate the state constitution.
“[T]he Kentucky Constitution does not wholly forbid the General Assembly’s consideration of any partisan interest whatsoever in the apportionment process. That said, there are of course limits. While the Kentucky Constitution does not categorically forbid any consideration of partisan interests in the apportionment process, partisanship may of course rise to an unconstitutional level,” the opinion reads.
In concluding that the challenged districts pass state constitutional muster, the majority noted that Kentucky courts must apply a “highly deferential” standard to the Legislature when weighing partisan gerrymandering claims — especially “given the political nature of the apportionment process.”
According to the opinion, only when partisanship creates a “clear, flagrant, and unwarranted invasion of the constitutional rights of the people” does it rise to the level of being unconstitutional.
At trial, one of the plaintiffs’ experts — Dr. Devin Caughey from MIT — testified that the state House districts showed a pro-Republican bias larger than he had ever previously seen.
In a statement regarding today’s decision, the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus leaders wrote that “we firmly disagree with today’s Kentucky Supreme Court decision. It gives legislative majorities much more authority to protect themselves at the expense of many voters…the current congressional and state House maps are textbook examples of extreme partisan gerrymandering, from how they were drawn in secret to how they effectively decided the outcomes of most races by the end of the primary.”