The first of what could be a few lawsuits challenging the maps of Ohio congressional districts was filed this week on behalf of voters in Ohio.
The Ohio Supreme Court received a lawsuit from the National Redistricting Action Fund on behalf of 12 Ohioans living in the cities of Trotwood, Cleveland Heights, Oxford, Warren and North Canton, and others.
Law firms in Seattle, DC and Columbus are listed as representing the Ohioans in the lawsuit, the first to come after congressional cards were approved last week on broadly partisan principles. The maps were contained in Senate Bill 258, which was signed by Governor Mike DeWine on November 20.
The NRAF and the Ohioans argue that Article XIX of the Ohio Constitution – part of the explanation of the redistribution process adopted by more than 70% of voters in a 2018 ballot initiative – is “mandatory and unequivocal ”.
The constitutional provision states that the General Assembly “shall not adopt a plan which unduly favors or disadvantages a political party or its incumbents” and “shall not unduly divide government units”.
“The General Assembly and Governor (Mike) DeWine’s contempt for this term is equally clear: They enacted a congressional plan under which Democrats can hope to win just three of Ohio’s 15 congressional seats,” making the 2021 congressional plan even more rigged than its predecessor and an outlier among gerrymanders supporters nationwide, ”the lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.
A spokesperson for DeWine said the governor’s office was reviewing the lawsuit and referred to DeWine’s comments when he signed the bill.
The trial arguments reflect certain facts during hours of testimony on various maps offered during the process, including the GOP Senate map which ended up being the map approved by the General Assembly.
“The process by which the maps were reviewed was a shameful subversion of constitutional reforms designed to secure meaningful public comment before a congressional district plan was passed,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit claims the map designers “subordinated traditional redistribution criteria, tore communities of interest apart, and diluted black Ohio voting power.”
The Ohio Redistribution Commission is also named as a party to the lawsuit, despite passing the Oct. 31 deadline without approving a card or proposing a card to the General Assembly for consideration.
The lawsuit said the ORC was “intended to serve as a safety net” if the GA fails to pass a card by September 30, and accused the Speaker of the House and the co-chair of the ORC, Bob Cupp, for ignoring his Co-President of State, Senator Vernon Sykes. “Prayers to schedule committee meetings”.
“As a result, for the entire month of October, the commission sat dormant,” the lawyers wrote. “No hearing took place and no card was examined.”
The commission held a hearing on October 28, in which card presentations were made by citizens and anti-gerrymandering groups, but no votes were taken.
According to court challenge lawyers, the maps proposed by the GOP during the November committee hearings “shamed the gerrymander of 2011” and cut off communities of interest while dividing counties, towns and townships.
The lawsuit notes that urban areas of southwestern and northeastern Ohio were split “unnecessarily in the blatantly transparent purpose of minimizing the voting power of Democrats – especially black voters.”
The state sponsor of the bill, Senator Rob McColley, defended the divisions made in the final map during a presentation to a House committee the day before the map was passed by the entire House . When asked specifically about Hamilton County, McColley said in general “‘the constitution, as we read it, and I think it’s pretty clear, allows us to divide up to five counties twice.”
The Ohioans in the lawsuit are asking the court to “uphold the constitution’s express prohibitions on partisan gerrymandering and undue divisions by rescinding the 2021 congressional plan and ordering the General Assembly to pass a plan in accordance with article XIX ”.
The timeline of Congress cards was already going to upset filing deadlines and primary election dates set for next year, but a court case could cause even more confusion. Senate Bill 258, as passed, postpones the February deadlines for submitting U.S. House nominations to March, as the bill will not come into effect until after first deadline of February 2.
The lawsuit asks the court not to allow the holding, supervision, administration or certification of elections as part of the Congress 2021 plan.
Further lawsuits may be pending, just as multiple challenges have been filed against the maps of legislative districts, adopted by the ORC in September.
Oral argument in the three cases presented by the League of Women Voters, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and a group of Ohioans is scheduled to begin on December 8.
John Fortney, spokesperson for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, called the lawsuit “yet another far-left special interest lawsuit teaching fairness to the people of Ohio,” in reference to the National Redistricting Action Fund, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
“You will never find these efforts in Illinois or in Democratic-majority states,” Fortney said in a statement. “Their hypocrisy is endless, their arrogance is endless.”
As of Tuesday, no further lawsuits were made public. The Ohio ACLU, which is part of the League of Women Voters lawsuit, said it “is still analyzing the map and determining the best course of action.”
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