The Kentucky Supreme Court is reviewing the state’s Republican-drawn legislative congressional maps

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Democrats took their legal fight to the state’s highest court Tuesday in challenging boundaries drawn by Republicans for the state House and congressional districts.

The hearing before the Kentucky Supreme Court at times centered around a lower court’s ruling that the new maps did not violate the state constitution. Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate concluded that the new limits amounted to “partisan gerrymandering,” but said the Constitution “does not expressly preclude consideration of partisan interests in the distribution of representation.”

Supreme Court Justice Kelly Thompson said the issue looms as “the crux of this matter” as the Supreme Court reviews the redistricting case. Thompson pointedly asked the Democrats’ attorneys whether the court invalidated the newly drawn districts based solely on gerrymandering grounds.

“Not yet,” replied attorney Michael Abate. “This court did not do that.”

The issue boils down to whether the court has a role in reviewing partisan gerrymandering, Abate said.

“This court understands the authority given to the Legislature to draw maps,” he said. “But this court has been given the authority to evaluate the maps and see if they are consistent with the Constitution.”

In defending the maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature, Deputy Attorney General Victor Maddox said Democrats were asking the court to “revolutionize redistricting.” He said Democrats want to use “social science metrics” created in recent years to take redistricting power away from the Legislature.

“I would suggest that there is nothing in our Constitution that supports this proposal,” Maddox said.

The legal battle over the border comes as both parties recruit candidates for the 2024 elections for the Legislature and Congress. At the end of the hour-long hearing, Chief Justice Lawrence P. VanMeter said the court would do “its best efforts” to reach a decision as soon as possible.

With the entry into force of the new districts in the midterm elections that took place last November, Republicans succeeded in increasing their super-legislative majority. Several Democratic state House members lost re-election bids after more Republican-friendly territory was annexed to their districts. Wingate’s ruling came shortly after the election.

The new maps are being challenged by the state Democratic Party and several individuals, including Democratic State Rep. Derek Graham. Their lawsuit asserts that the once-a-decade map-drawing process reflects “extreme partisan gerrymandering” in violation of the state constitution. It alleges that the state House map divided some of Kentucky’s most populous counties into multiple districts to “dilute the influence” of Democratic voters. She said that the goal is to strengthen the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and stifle the opposition.

Top GOP lawmakers said they were confident the mapping would withstand any challenge.

Criticism of the new congressional maps was mainly aimed at expanding the oddly shaped 1st Congressional District to include Franklin County, which includes Democratic-leaning Frankfort in central Kentucky. The congressional district, a GOP stronghold, is located mostly in western Kentucky.

Judge Angela McCormick-Pisage noted that Republicans won 80 of the 100 seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives in last year’s elections. She said it was “hard to overlook” projections that Democrats would only pick up three additional seats using the alternative redistricting map they presented. Given this difference, she said, “It is difficult for me to explain that we have reached this extreme level” that would prompt the court to mediate.

Abate responded that the Democratic alternative was not the party’s best map, but was offered to show that redistricting could be “done better and more compliant” with the Constitution.

Maddox noted that over three elections, Democratic membership in the Kentucky House of Representatives has diminished dramatically under Democratic-drawn maps for the chamber. He said this should put an end to Democrats’ claims of partisan unfairness in the maps drawn by Republicans.

“It provides the most compelling reason for this Court to reaffirm its long-standing rules regarding redistricting and, more importantly, to stay out of the political thicket that redistricting represents,” he added.

Republicans took full control of the Kentucky Legislature after the 2016 election, when the party captured the state House of Representatives, ending nearly a century of Democratic control of the chamber. The GOP already held a majority in the state Senate. Since then, the Republican Party has increased its numbers in the Legislature.

By drawing new boundaries for Kentucky’s six congressional districts, Republicans kept the one Democratic-controlled district essentially intact. That district covers most of Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the largest Democratic stronghold in the state.

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