Kentucky Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Fischer v. State Board of Elections847 S.W.2d 718 (Ky. 1993); "Fischer I"

Joseph M. Fischer, a resident of Campbell County, filed suit in Campbell Circuit Court challenging the redistricting of the three most northern Kentucky counties, alleging that the redistricting plan violated Section 33 of the state Constitution.  The defendants challenged venue, arguing that the suit should have been brought in Franklin County, which includes the capital city.  The trial court accepted venue, but on appeal, the Court of Appeals held that proper venue was in Franklin County.  The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding that the county in which the injury occurs controls the issue of venue, not the county where the statute was adopted.

Fischer v. State Board of Elections879 S.W.2d 475 (Ky. 1994); "Fischer II"

Section 33 of the state Constitution provides that "The . . . General Assembly . . . shall divide the state into thirty eight Senatorial Districts and one hundred Representative Districts, as nearly equal in population as may be without dividing any county, except where a county may include more than one district . . . ."  In "Fischer II," Joseph Fischer challenged the General Assembly's redistricting plan, which divided 48 of the state's 120 counties in the House and 19 counties in the Senate.  The Supreme Court concluded that, "as between competing concepts of population equality and county integrity, the latter is of at least equal importance."  The Court held that Section 33 mandates that reapportionment be accomplished by dividing the fewest number of counties possible while maintaining a maximum deviation of plus or minus five percent from the ideal population of a legislative district.  The Court enjoined the conduct of any election under the redistricting plan after January 3, 1995.

State Board of Elections v. Fischer910 S.W.2d 245 (Ky. 1995); "Fischer III"

A state representative resigned in August 1995, creating a vacancy in office.  The State Board of Elections sought an amendment of the court's permanent injunction to permit a special election.  The Supreme Court declined, reiterating its opinion declaring the unconstitutionality of the 1991 redistricting plan.  It pointed out that 17 months had passed since the "Fischer II" decision, with no acceptable redistricting plan having been enacted by the General Assembly.

Note:  In August 1995, the General Assembly, in Special Session, enacted both Senate and House redistricting plans, but the House bill was vetoed by the Governor after the House had adjourned sine die.  Campbell Circuit Court found the Senate plan unconstitutional on the ground that it was not accompanied by a House plan, and was therefore incomplete.

Jensen v. State Board of Elections 959 S.W.2d 771 (Ky. 1997)

The 1996 General Assembly enacted a redistricting plan with an effective date of January 11, 1996.  The House plan contained a population within the plus-or-minus five percent deviation range, and split only 22 counties, the minimum number that could be divided.  On appeal to the Supreme Court challenging a Franklin Circuit Court judgment that the 1996 Act was constitutional, Representative Thomas Jensen, the minority floor leader of the House, challenged the plan on the basis that the plan did not create a whole district within either Pulaski or Laurel ("Republican") Counties, even though both counties contained population large enough to accommodate a whole district.  (Neither did Christian County, a "Democratic" county.)  Pulaski and Laurel Counties were both split into five House districts.

Jensen requested that the Court reconsider "Fischer II" and interpret Section 33 to require the division of a minimum number of counties only after each county large enough to accommodate a whole district is awarded the maximum number of whole districts that can be accommodated by its population.  Jensen's House Bill would have divided 30 counties to accomplish this result.  The Court, interpreting the proceedings and debates of the 1890 Constitutional Convention, determined that the "delegates did not intend to guarantee that a county be represented by a resident of that county."

Further, Jensen relied on an observation contained in footnote 5 of "Fischer II" which noted:  "[W]e can scarcely conceive of a circumstance in which a county or part thereof which lacks sufficient population to constitute a district would be subjected to multiple divisions."  The Court admitted that "what we thought was scarcely conceivable has proven to be unavoidable."

In response to Jensen's suggestions of political gerrymandering, the Court recognized that: "[A]pportionment is primarily a political and legislative process.  Our only role . . . is to ascertain whether a particular redistricting plan passes constitutional muster, not whether a better plan could be crafted."  In upholding the redistricting plan, the Court determined that the plan satisfied the requirements of Section 33 and the mandate of "Fischer II."

State Contacts
Joyce Honaker 
Committee Staff Administrator 
Legislative Research Commission 
424 State Capitol 
Frankfort, KY 40601 
502/564-8100 voice 
502/223-5094 fax
Clint Newman
Legislative Research Commission
427 State Capitol
Frankfort, KY 40601
502/564-8100 voice
502/223-5094 fax