In court filings, lawyers argue Ohio Supreme Court should bypass redistricting commission and reject state’s latest legislative maps
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Groups that sued and won two sets of Republican-drawn Ohio state legislative maps overturned in court are now opposing a third set approved by Republicans last Thursday.
And two groups of plaintiffs in the case — a local affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and a collection of advocacy groups led by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a liberal group — suggest workarounds the court can follow to circumvent the Ohio Redistricting Commission, the panel of elected officials who drew the maps.
The Ohio Supreme Court had given the groups, which include a third set led by the Ohio League of Women Voters, until Monday morning to file objections to the Republican plan passed last Thursday. All three groups of groups objected, meaning the court will now have to decide whether the plans meet new state redistricting rules, passed by voters as an amendment to the state constitution in 2015. as anti-gerrymandering reform.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced on Saturday that he has directed county election officials to take the necessary steps to place state legislative candidates on the ballot along lines approved Thursday. . As a result, the groups, in their Monday filings, also asked the court to block state officials from holding elections under the most recent maps while the review is ongoing.
The redistricting commission has five Republicans — Governor Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Auditor Keith Faber, Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate Speaker Matt Huffman. It also has two Democrats, Ohio Minority Leader Allison Russo and State Senator Vernon Sykes.
It’s the first time Ohio has used its new redistricting rules, which now require maps to meet political standards, rather than just allowing a majority party to approve whatever it wants. A 4-to-3 court majority, with Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joining the court’s three Democrats, rejected two sets of state legislative cards and one congressional card. The lengthy redistricting process jeopardized the May election, threatening the timeline Election officials say they must ensure that ballots and voter lists are accurate and ready on time.
The maps the redistricting commission approved on Thursday favor Republicans to win 54% and Democrats to win 46% of Ohio state’s legislative districts. This is the percentage of the statewide vote that each party has received over the last decade of statewide partisan elections, a number that is referenced in the constitutional language of the State and which a majority of the court interpreted as a legal requirement.
But the groups said on Monday that the maps are only theoretically politically proportionate. Of the Democratic-leaned seats, 26 are random precincts, meaning they favor Democrats by 3 percentage points or less. If Republicans were to win all of those seats — which they could do with a 3% or more increase in broader favorable political leanings — they could win up to 74% of state legislative seats, increasing their current lead and consolidating more of their right of veto. probative majority, the threshold of which is 60% control.
Because there are no corresponding Republican-leaning districts, Democrats could get a 3% raise and win no additional seats, the groups said.
“Because of the plan’s asymmetrical reliance on mixed districts, it sets a performance cap for Democrats and a performance floor for Republicans,” wrote Michael Latner, a California political scientist working for Ohio Organizing. Collaborative. “So he functions as a ‘winner-take-all’ gerrymander but with only a one-way ratchet in favor of the Republicans.”
The documents filed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative both focus on a map map drawn by Jonathan Rodden, a Stanford University political scientist working for the NDRC, the national redistricting group headed by Holder.
The Rodden map would favor Republicans to win 59% of state legislative seats and Democrats 41%. But Rodden’s map has fewer random districts — just two leaning toward Democrats and one leaning toward Republicans, giving Democrats a firmer political floor and Republicans a firmer cap. It also has fewer divisions between counties and communities than the new Republican-approved plan, they said.
Both groups of groups describe a way the court could get the redistricting commission to adopt the map, despite state constitutional language that says the court cannot draw the state’s legislative maps itself.
The Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which is represented by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, a national left-leaning electoral rights group, describes a more devious strategy the court could use.
The OOC says the court – which said an earlier version of the Rodden plan was constitutional – should decide whether the latest Rodden maps are constitutional or not. And then the court should ask the redistricting commission to say within two days whether or not it plans to adopt the maps, giving a reason why or why not.
If the commission does not pass the Rodden cards, the OOC says the court should declare a stalemate, sending the process back to federal courts. And he says the court should consider declaring the redistricting commission in contempt and ordering the legislature to delay the May 3 election to buy more time for the redistricting process.
Meanwhile, the NRDC, the national Democratic redistricting group, outlines more aggressive steps the court should consider taking. The NRDC argues that the redistricting commission’s refusal to approve fairer maps led to extraordinary circumstances that voters did not envision when they approved the redistricting reform.
“It’s hard to imagine that the people of Ohio who voted to overhaul their Constitution in 2015 intended to allow a federal court to take control of redistricting instead of allowing this Court to act as a safety net should the Commission persist in not complying with the reforms,” the NDRC wrote in its filing.
He says the court should consider imposing Rodden’s card. Otherwise, he said the court should hire a court-appointed cartographer, called a special master, to work with the redistricting commission to approve new maps.
It also says the court should hold the redistricting commission members in contempt of court, ordering the commission to pay attorneys’ fees, which could cost at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even force the commissioners individuals to pay the legal costs themselves.
The NRDC cites a Saturday Twitter Post of State Representative Bill Seitz, an influential Republican from Cincinnati who sits in the leadership of the House of Ohio. Seitz, responding to criticism that LaRose began preparations Saturday under new state legislative maps, seemed to suggest there was no reason to wait for the conclusion of the legal review.
“Not crazy at all. We have an election to run,” Seitz said, responding to a tweet from former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “This legal charade has gone on long enough. The red wave is coming and the GOP supermajority will be retained.
The NRDC said in its filing that Republicans on the redistricting commission were conducting a “charade” passing the most recent map and calling it constitutional.
“The Commission is unwilling to comply with the requirements of the Constitution or the orders of the Court,” the NRDC said. “Perhaps he hopes that with enough political pressure, this Court will abandon the trenches and allow the Commission to flout the rule of law. This Court should rather stand its ground and refuse to abdicate its duty.
Although she opposed the new cards, articulating a criticism similar to that of the other groups, the Ohio League of Women Voters, represented in court by the Ohio ACLU and joined by the A. Philip Randolph Institute, n did not specify in its Monday filing what the court should do next.
The court gave state officials until Thursday to respond to the objections, and then will rule on the cards sometime after.
O’Connor, the Republican Chief Justice, previously ordered members of the redistricting commission to appear in court on Tuesday to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court after violating a court order to pass a new state legislative map by Feb. 12. 17. But after the commission approved the new map last Thursday, O’Connor postponed that hearing while setting the schedule for dealing with any objections to the new maps.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Redistricting Commission is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Thursday to consider passing a new congressional map. The redistricting of Congress is done through a different process, but with similar rules.