COLUMBUS, Ohio — The battle over redistricting continues as the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a second Republican-drawn map of U.S. House (congressional) districts as gerrymandered on Tuesday, sending it back for a third attempt to meet constitutional parameters approved by Ohio voters. The deadline for the General Assembly to draw a constitutional congressional map has passed – August 18. Now the Redistricting Commission has until September 17 to draw a new congressional map.
UPDATE: The Ohio House Democrats released their rebuttal to state Republicans’ latest legal theory that they actually didn’t have to observe an initial redistricting deadline, set by the Ohio Supreme Court, that passed on Thursday. Democrats’ response? They said Republicans falsely say the July order from the Ohio Supreme Court is appealable – the basis for Republicans saying they have an extra three months to act — since the Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s top court. “The current status of the congressional map is this: It is unconstitutional. The General Assembly ignored its duty to draw a constitutional map by the August 18 deadline,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo and state Sen. Vernon Sykes. “Therefore, the Redistricting Commission now has until September 17 to draw a new congressional map, just as the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Supreme Court’s order clearly state.” It is unconstitutional. The General Assembly ignored its duty to draw a constitutional map by the August 18 deadline,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo and state Sen. Vernon Sykes. “Therefore, the Redistricting Commission now has until September 17 to draw a new congressional map, just as the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Supreme Court’s order clearly state.”
In face of looming state court deadline,
Ohio Republicans signal no plans
to draw new congressional map for months
Andrew J. Tobias, cleveland.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp is signaling that state Republicans won’t approve a new congressional map for the 2024 elections until at least October and likely later, despite a looming Ohio Supreme Court deadline that set an initial deadline for this Thursday.
Breaking his public silence during the latest phase of the state’s redistricting saga, Cupp, a Lima Republican, issued a memo on Wednesday laying out a legal theory for disregarding the Thursday deadline.
It involves the possibility of Republicans appealing the July decision from the Ohio Supreme Court, which rejected state Republicans’ latest congressional map plan as an illegal pro-GOP gerrymander, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, told the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau on Wednesday that he’s considering such an appeal.
In its July order, the Ohio Supreme Court, citing redistricting rules voters added to the state constitution in 2018, gave the state legislature 30 days to approve a new congressional map. That deadline passes Thursday. If the legislature didn’t act, the Ohio Redistricting Commission then would have another 30 days before a final deadline, which would fall in mid-September, under the Ohio Supreme Court order.
But Cupp said the 60-day clock described in the state constitution doesn’t start ticking until all appeals are final. And under federal law, Cupp said, parties have 90 days to appeal an order. That sets an initial deadline for the state legislature to consider approving a map in mid-October, after the deadline expires for someone to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kenny Yuko, the top Democrat in the Ohio Senate, criticized Republicans for considering taking the issue to the nation’s high court, which has a solid conservative majority.
The dispute over the congressional map doesn’t affect this year’s election. Even though the Ohio Supreme Court rejected them as unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, the ruling didn’t come until after Ohio used them for the primary election in May. So any new map would be used for elections in 2024.
The legal theory Cupp described on Wednesday is the latest example of state Republicans trying to delay a redistricting decision. In May, they argued that the Ohio Supreme Court shouldn’t rule on the congressional map until November, after the election, to avoid voter confusion.
Republicans also have flatly ignored the Ohio Supreme Court’s authority when it comes to state legislative redistricting after repeatedly accusing the court of judicial overreach. In June, they let a deadline to draw new state maps lapse without any action. On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a motion from voting-rights groups, Democrats and others in a generally left-leaning coalition to set a court hearing to force Republicans to explain why they had done so.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, thinks Cupp and Huffman have valid legal arguments to claim this week’s deadline set by the Ohio Supreme Court doesn’t actually apply, according to Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the governor’s office.
“If the legislature wants to consider pursuing an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, it’s pretty clear they have 90 days to do so,” Tierney said.
Jen Miller, leader of the Ohio League of Women Voters, one of the groups that’s repeatedly sued state Republicans during the ongoing redistricting cycle, said it’s clear that the 60-day clock to draw a new congressional map already has started, with the first initial deadline hitting on Thursday.
“Instead of doing the right thing by Ohio voters by creating districts that respect the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Supreme Court orders, Huffman and Cupp seem hellbent on serving their own political interests and then justifying their bad behavior through far-fetched legal acrobatics,” Miller said.
In the Wednesday interview with the USA Today Oho Network discussing his possible U.S. Supreme Court appeal, Huffman described a legal doctrine known as the “independent state legislature theory,” which would have the effect of completely removing the Ohio Supreme Court’s legal oversight of any congressional map. The Supreme Court is taking up similar issues under a redistricting case out of North Carolina.
“The question that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to decide is: Does the state Supreme Court, in this case, the Ohio Supreme Court, have the authority to say this is how these are going to be drawn?” Huffman said.
A message has been left with Huffman for this story.
If Republicans do end up pursuing an independent legislature-related lawsuit, it would fundamentally undercut the state’s redistricting reform, which Huffman played a key role in writing and promoting to voters, who overwhelmingly approved it in 2018.
The new constitutional language describes clearly that the Ohio Supreme Court has authority to decide whether or not maps are unconstitutional and also potentially gives the court authority to draw new maps if the normal redistricting process fails. At the time it passed, Republicans generally were confident that the Republican-controlled Ohio Supreme Court would issue favorable rulings on redistricting issues and were more concerned about intervention from the federal courts.
But Democrats won two seats on the Ohio Supreme Court in the 2018 elections, empowering O’Connor as a swing vote. And Republicans so far have seen success in federal courts, successfully using a federal lawsuit to force Ohio to use a state legislative map this year that the Ohio Supreme Court had rejected.
Ohio Supreme Court scraps 2nd
GOP-drawn congressional map
The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a second Republican-drawn map
of U.S. House districts as gerrymandered
Associated Press |
The ruling adds to a string of court defeats for Ohio’s ruling Republicans amid the once-per-decade redistricting process that states undertake to reflect population changes from the U.S. Census. Despite those failures in court, however, Ohio’s 2022 congressional primaries went forward on May 3 under an earlier invalidated U.S. House map, and its legislative primaries under an unconstitutional Statehouse map take place Aug. 2.
New maps will not be put in place until 2024.
In its 4-3 ruling, the court said the latest map — which was passed earlier this year by the Ohio Redistricting Commission without Democratic support — again violated a 2018 constitutional amendment aimed at preventing partisan gerrymandering.
The map created 10 safe Republican seats and five Democratic seats. However, the high court’s majority said the latest map “packed” Democrats into three congressional districts that would heavily favor a Democratic candidate, while unfairly splitting counties and cities around heavily-Democratic Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.
GOP commissioners called it their best attempt at avoiding partisan favor while abiding by the Constitution’s specific provisions, which are in use this decade for the first time.
Majority justices said evidence showed a map that didn’t “unduly favor” Ohio’s majority party would have at least six Democratic-leaning districts, leaving nine Republican-leaning districts. The justices cited studies by several election experts hired by the voting-rights and Democratic groups who challenged the maps.
The decision returns the map to the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which will have 30 days to act.
If lawmakers fail, the debate will return once more to the redistricting panel, whose multiple maps of legislative and congressional districts have yet to withstand court scrutiny.
Ohio’s attorney general, who serves as the Redistricting Commission’s lawyer, does not have the option to appeal, as voters gave the Supreme Court original and exclusive jurisdiction.
In their dissent, Justices Sharon Kennedy and Pat DeWine — son to Gov. Mike DeWine, who sits on the redistricting panel — argued that the constitution doesn’t define what “unduly favors” means and that the majority’s analysis is faulty. They said proportional party representation is not even “an aspirational goal” of the constitution, “much less a requirement.”
The decision “demonstrates that the majority has once again assumed an oversized role in the process of drawing a congressional-district map by perpetuating its own standard of what constitutes ‘unduly favoring’ a political party,” the dissenters wrote.
In a separate dissent, Justice Pat Fischer asserted that the state’s high court should serve as a “trial court” in such disputes, but said that didn’t take place during this first use of Ohio’s new map-making process.
Moderate Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who at 70 years old must leave the court Dec. 31 due to age limits, again provided a pivotal swing vote, joining the court’s three Democrats in the majority. O’Connor had also joined Democrats in the ruling against the first congressional map.
Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the group agrees that the districts are “rigged for politicians rather than being drawn to uphold the rights of Ohioans to have meaningful elections.” They hope mapmakers will “take the Ohio Constitution seriously and create maps that truly are fair for the people of Ohio,” she said.