Brown et al v. The Commonwealth of Kentucky et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: (1) DENYING dft Greg Stumbo's 36 Motion to Stay; (2) a separate Scheduling Order shall issue directing the parties of the manner of proceeding & the expedited deadlines. Signed by Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove on 6/27/13. (KJR)cc: COR
Eastern D1stl'1ct of Kentucky
F I LED
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
KENNY BROWN, individually and in his
official capacity as the Boone County Clerk,
JUN 27 2013
ROBERT R. CARR
CLERK U.S. DISTRICT COURT
Civil No. 13-cv-68
THE COMMONWEALTH OF
KENTUCKY, et ~.,
MARTIN HERBERT, et aI.,
Civil No. 13-cv-25
KENTUCKY STATE BOARD OF
ELECTIONS, et aI.,
*** *** *** ***
Before: BOGGS, Circuit Judge; VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge; and BERTELSMAN,
Senior District Judge.
Defendant Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, asks the
Court to stay this action in which several Kentucky citizens have challenged the constitutionality
of the Commonwealth's legislative districts. [R. 36]. He argues that redistricting is the
legislature's job, ajob that will be accomplished given the recent Extraordinary Legislative
Session called by the Governor for just such a purpose. The Plaintiffs counter that though the
General Assembly should be permitted another opportunity to enact new legislative districts, this
Court must take steps necessary to draw constitutional lines should the legislature once again fail
to perform its duties. [R. 38]. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Stay is DENIED.
These cases are always informed by the unsuccessful efforts of the legislative process.
Based on the 2000 United States Census, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a legislative
redistricting plan in 2002. KRS 5.010(2)(c). This was done not only to satisfy the constitutional
dictates of Section 33 of the Kentucky Constitution, which requires the General Assembly to
redistrict every ten years, but also to ensure adherence to the "one person one vote" principle
derived from the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ten years later, after
another census was conducted revealing population changes in Kentucky, the General Assembly
passed a new redistricting plan. However, the constitutionality of this plan was challenged in
Legislative Research Comm 'n v. Fischer, 366 S.W.3d 905 (Ky. 2012), wherein the Kentucky
Supreme Court invalidated it. Remarkably, the 2012 elections were held under the 2002
legislative district lines, which had not been altered to reflect demographic changes in Kentucky
over the intervening decade. Since that time, the legislature went in and out ofthe 2013 Regular
Session without enacting a new redistricting plan.
Now, approaching year four of the ten year election decennial, the legislative districts in
force in Kentucky are the lines passed during the second year of former President George W.
Bush's administration. Concerned that the population changes have caused vote dilution and
legislative malapportionment, two sets of Plaintiffs initiated an action, consolidated in this Court,
against various officials in the Kentucky state government. Speaker Stumbo, one of those named
defendants, now requests the Court to stay its hand to allow the Kentucky General Assembly
another opportunity to provide the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky with
constitutional legislative districts.
Before considering Speaker Stumbo's substantive arguments in favor of staying this
action, it is critical to set forth what the Plaintiffs seek at this point in the litigation. First, they
request a declaration by the Court that it would be unconstitutional for the legislative districts
passed in 2002 to be employed yet again in 2014. 1 Toward this end, the Plaintiffs seek a period
of discovery so that relevant population information can be gathered in support of a dispositive
motion. Second, if found unconstitutional, the Plaintiffs seek an order enjoining future elections
from taking place under the 2002 legislative districts. Finally, if, and only if, the legislature is
unsuccessful in passing constitutional legislative districts sufficiently in advance of the
November 4,2013, residency deadline, the Plaintiffs request that the Court be prepared to fulfill
its statutory duty and provide constitutional legislative district plans so that fair elections may go
forward in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Typically, this requires the Court to consider expert
testimony and maps proposed by the parties at a trial, after which the Court will adopt a
legislative redistricting plan for the next election cycle.
I At the hearing, the constitutionality of the 2012 elections seemed to be a point of concern for the Plaintiffs.
However, the Brown Plaintiffs have now withdrawn their claim for damages based on past constitutional violations.
Speaker Stumbo's first argument essentially claims that redistricting is in the province of
elected members of the Kentucky General Assembly and should not be wrested from the people
by unelectedjudges. In support of this proposition, he cites Growe v. Emison, 507 U.S. 25, 33,
113 S. Ct. 1075, 1081, 122 L. Ed. 2d 388 (1993), wherein the United States Supreme Court
stated, "In the reapportionment context, the Court has required federal judges to defer
consideration of disputes involving redistricting where the State, through its legislative or
judicial branch has begun to address the highly political task itself." As a result, Speaker Stumbo
argues that the Court should stay this action to allow the legislature to do its job without further
interference from the Court.
The Kentucky General Assembly has the primary responsibility for apportioning
legislative districts in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Ky. Const. § 33; Growe, 507 U.S. at 34.
Though the Defendants have expended much ink in support ofthis proposition, neither the
Plaintiffs nor the Court disagrees that the law contemplates the legislature as Plan A for
redistricting. 2 To be clear, in the view of this Court, the most desirable outcome in this matter is
for the Kentucky General Assembly to timely pass a constitutional legislative redistricting plan.
However, it is equally apparent that when the political branches fail, the law has vested
secondary responsibility for these duties in the hands of the courts
Plan B. Growe, 507 U.S. at
36; see Fischer, 366 S.W.3d at 908.
Therefore, the focus of the Court in this action shall be upon the constitutionality of districts to be used in future
The Supreme Court precedent cited by the Defendants clearly permits the simultaneous
operation of these two procedures to ensure constitutional legislative districts are in place in time
for an election. In Growe, a group of Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Minnesota
legislative districts in a State Court action. 507 U.S. at 27. The parties in that case stipulated
that in light of new census data, the challenged districts were unconstitutional. ld. A second
group of Plaintiffs filed suit, raising similar challenges in Federal Court. !d. at 28. A three-judge
panel was convened, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284. ld. As both cases proceeded, the Minnesota
Legislature held public hearings and passed new maps. !d. Regrettably, these new maps
contained several flaws, requiring curative legislation, which did not pass the legislature before
the session ended. Id. As this draft legislation was scheduled to be taken up at the beginning of
the next session, the Federal District Court granted a motion ''to defer further proceedings
pending action by the Minnesota Legislature." Id at 29. However, in the interim, the Court did
set a deadline for legislative actions and appointed special masters to develop contingent plans in
the event the legislature failed to provide constitutional legislative districts. Id.
Speaker Stumbo seems to argue that these actions taken by the three-judge panel of the
Federal District Court in Minnesota
determining the constitutionality of prior maps, setting
deadlines, and working toward the creation of contingency maps
unconstitutional practice condemned in Growe. This is decisively not the case. The Supreme
Court noted that, "[o]f course the District Court would have been justified in adopting its own
plan if it had been apparent that the state court, through no fault of the District Court itself, would
not a develop a redistricting plan in time for the primaries. [Scott v.] Germano[, 381 U.S. 407,
408 (1965),] requires deferral, not abstention." Id. at 36-37.
The failure of the Minnesota three-judge district court was not in making the necessary
preparations to fulfill its duties in the event that the legislature could not, but in proactively
enjoining all proceedings in the parallel State Court action until after the legislature had the
opportunity to pass its maps. Id at 30. This stay was ultimately lifted by the Supreme Court. Id.
The State Court then produced a redistricting plan that was conditioned on the failure of the
legislature to pass a constitutional map. Id. The Minnesota Legislature did ultimately pass a
map, but it was vetoed by the Governor. Id. The State Court then issued orders adopting its
plans. Id. Shortly thereafter, the Federal District Court issued an order adopting its own plans
and permanently enjoining state interference with those plans. Id. at 31. The District Court
justified its order on the basis that the State Court's plan violated federal law, the Voting Rights
Act. Id. It was this action by the District Court that was condemned. The United States
Supreme Court reiterated that "reapportionment is primarily the duty and responsibility of the
State through its legislature or other body" and that "[a]bsent evidence that these state branches
will fail timely to perform that duty, a federal court must neither affirmatively obstruct state
reapportionment nor permit federal litigation to be used to impede it." Id at 34 (internal
quotation marks omitted).
The relief suggested by the Plaintiffs in our case is distinct from the type of actions taken
by the District Court in Growe. As an initial matter, in this case there is no parallel state court
proceeding that this Court is taking affirmative steps to enjoin and overrule. In addition, the
remedy sought by the Plaintiffs is deferential and would neither obstruct state reapportionment
nor use federal litigation to impede it. Now that the Governor has called the Extraordinary
Legislative Session, the Plaintiffs are agreeable to affording the General Assembly another
opportunity to enact constitutional maps. However, the Plaintiffs argue that this Court should
fmd the 2002 maps that are currently in force to be unconstitutional, enjoin their use, and have a
process in place to provide for constitutional districts should the legislature fail. Proceeding in
this manner would not run afoul of the teachings of Growe, as the District Court therein took
nearly identical steps without admonition of the Court. Moreover, by taking these actions, the
Court would do nothing to obstruct the work of the legislature, which would retain the primary
responsibility to produce constitutional districts. On the contrary, as recognized by counsel for
Senate President Stivers, the specter of this litigation may serve as a "powerful motivating
factor" for the General Assembly to timely pass its own redistricting plan.
Further, even if the remedy sought by the Plaintiffs at this point could be considered to be
obstructive, it would not necessarily offend Growe, which contains an exception for federal court
actions taken when there exists "evidence that these state branches will fail timely to perform
their duty." Id. Counsel for Speaker Stumbo asserts that the General Assembly will pass
constitutional legislative maps in the newly called legislative session. And while all are hopeful
that the legislature will be successful, history teaches that all too often the past is prologue. As
noted by the Plaintiffs, the Kentucky General Assembly has already once failed to pass
constitutional legislative maps. See Fischer, 366 S.W.3d at 908. After this failure, the
legislature unsuccessfully addressed redistricting in the following 2013 session. A map passed
the House of Representatives, but as confirmed by both the Plaintiffs and some Defendants, this
map has generated nearly as many constitutional questions as it answered. At the hearing,
between assurances that a redistricting plan would pass, the representatives of each legislative
chamber raised competing concerns over the House map.
The Court remains hopeful, but time is short for alL By November 4,2013, the Kentucky
Constitution requires that citizens of the Commonwealth must reside in the district in which they
seek to run for election. Allowing that date to pass constrains the choices of these Plaintiffs and
allows districts to be drawn punitively. In short, though the Plaintiffs do not seek and the Court
does not intend to provide relief that obstructs the legislature, actions must be taken now to
prepare for the possibility that the state institutions will be unable to fulfill their duty in a timely
These same reasons defeat Speaker Stumbo's second argument that a stay is justified
under the factors that govern granting a stay pending appeal or ordering a preliminary injunction.
When considering a stay pending appeal, the Sixth Circuit considers the following factors:
(1 ) the likelihood that the party seeking the stay will prevail on the merits of the
appeal; (2) the likelihood that the moving party will be irreparably harmed absent
a stay; (3) the prospect that others will be harmed if the court grants the stay; and
(4) the public interest in granting the stay.
Servo Emps. Int'l Union Local 1 v. Husted, 698 F.3d 341,343 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Assuming without deciding that these factors are relevant in determining
whether a stay is necessary here, as Speaker Stumbo suggests, a stay would still not be merited
under these circumstances. As previously discussed, there is some evidence to persuade the
Court that the legislature will not be able to timely develop constitutional maps. However, even
without a stay, the legislature is permitted sufficient time to attempt to do so, thereby causing no
irreparable harm if the stay is not granted. Finally, if the legislature were to fail in passing
constitutional legislative districts and the Court were not prepared to do so, the fundamental
voting rights of both the Plaintiffs and the general public would be severely threatened.
The Kentucky General Assembly has the primary responsibility to enact a constitutional
redistricting plan, and this Court will not interfere with its ability to carry out these duties.
However, the Court also has a statutory job to do. As this Court is secondarily responsible for
timely providing constitutional electoral maps should the legislature fail, a stay would interfere
with the Court's duties. Either as a result of Plan A or Plan B, all citizens of the Commonwealth
of Kentucky must be fairly represented in the coming elections.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:
The Motion of Defendant Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the Kentucky House of
Representatives, to Stay Further Action of this Court [R. 36] is DENIED; and
A separate Scheduling Order shall issue by the Court directing the parties of the
manner of proceeding and the expedited deadlines to govern this action going forward.
This 27th day of June, 2013.
BY THE COURT:
Gregory F. Van Tatenhove
U.S. District Judge
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