Voting rights groups ask court to delay implementing maps

By Ohio Capital Journal Staff

COLUMBUS— The ACLU of Ohio filed a motion Friday asking a federal court to delay its deadline for it implementing Ohio House and Senate district maps for 2022 that have now twice been declared unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders by the Ohio Supreme Court.

In a 2-1 decision in April, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division set tomorrow, Saturday, May 28 as the deadline for the commission to come up with a viable plan before the federal court would intervene to implement Map 3 passed by along partisan lines by Republicans on the commission in February and rejected twice by the state supreme court as unconstitutional.

In between their original adoption by the commission and the state supreme court’s first rejection of them as unconstitutional, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered boards of elections to load the Statehouse district maps into their systems and prepare to use them.

Republicans on the redistricting commission used the fact that elections officials were already ordered to use the maps as part of their decision to pass the maps a second time, and the federal court pointed to counties already using Map 3 as justification for its choosing it for implementation.

On Wednesday, a 4-3 bipartisan majority of the Ohio Supreme Court rejected Map 3 again and set a new deadline of June 3 for the commission to produce an entirely new plan.

The voting rights groups asked the federal court Friday to stay its hand until June 6, “so that the results of the Ohio Supreme Court’s May 25 order can be considered before the federal court intervenes in Ohio’s legislative redistricting process by imposing an already rejected map onto voters for the 2022 election cycle.”

The motion, filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the A. Philip Randolph Institute notes, “The Court’s belief that the majority Commissioners would maintain even a basic degree of fidelity to their roles as public servants, though surely an understandable expectation of elected officials, has proven to be sadly mistaken.”

“We would hope that the federal three-judge panel will respect the order and timeline from the Ohio Supreme Court, which is the venue that the people of Ohio chose to settle this incredibly important issue when they placed redistricting reforms in the Ohio Constitution in 2015,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

In her concurring opinion rejecting the map for the second time, Republican Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote that with the federal court’s reassurance that continuing delays and inactions would be rewarded, the commission has “engaged in a stunning rebuke of the rule of law” by readopting Map 3.

“This court has been placed in a remarkable position,” O’Connor wrote. “With the reassurance provided by a federal district court in (the federal case) that continuing delays and inaction would be rewarded with the implementation of a previously rejected map, respondent Ohio Redistricting Commission has, contrary to this court’s clear order, resubmitted an unconstitutional General Assembly district plan and, in doing so, has engaged in a stunning rebuke of the rule of law.”

She said the federal court “did not stay its hand until May 28 as it stated it would,” but rather “provided the Republican commission members not only a roadmap of how to avoid discharging their duties but also a green light to further delay these proceedings by stating its intention to implement ‘Map 3’ … all the while acknowledging that this court had declared Map 3 to be invalid and unconstitutional.”

Each of the federal court’s concerns about conducting the election, O’Connor said, were “created by the commission’s lack of action — which is in direct defiance of its constitutional duties and this court’s four prior judgments — and all those concerns were then, and are now, fully capable of resolution by the commission or the General Assembly.”

“Lamentably, the federal court’s optimism that the commission members ‘are public servants who still view partisan advantage as subordinate to the rule of the law,’ proved to be unfounded,” she said.

By Ohio Capital Journal Staff