Youngstown residents’ lawsuit seeks to stop certification of special congressional election

City residents ask panel to not certify June 11 election

Three African-American Youngstown residents suing to invalidate Ohio’s congressional map because they say it disenfranchises black voters, particularly in the Mahoning Valley, asked a federal judicial panel to not certify the June 11 special election results for the 6th Congressional District race.

The Youngstown residents are seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and partial summary judgment to have the three-member panel order the June 11 election results between Republican Michael Rulli and Democrat Michael L. Kripchak not be certified.

Rulli and Kripchak won their respective party primaries on March 19. They will face each other in a June 11 special election for the unexpired term of Republican Bill Johnson, who resigned in January to become Youngstown State University president, and again on Nov. 5 for the full two-year term starting in January 2025. The district is considered a safe Republican seat based on statewide election voting trends during the past decade.

The Youngstown residents contend the boundaries of the 6th District need to be redrawn because the state’s congressional map approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission in 2022 disenfranchised black voters in the Mahoning Valley by splitting Youngstown and Warren – where a majority of the area’s African-American voters reside – and putting both in predominantly white districts.

If the 6th District’s boundaries are changed, most or all of the state’s 14 other congressional districts would have to be adjusted.

In a Tuesday filing, Percy Squire, the attorney representing the Youngstown residents, wrote his clients are seeking “an immediate declaration” that the ORC’s rule “against consideration of racial demographic information in the redistricting process renders the entire state congressional plan unlawful, not just District 6.”

The Youngstown residents are suing the ORC and five Republican elected state officeholders.

The Republican officeholders on Friday filed a motion to dismiss the case and oppose the requests for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and partial summary judgment.

Julie M. Pfeiffer, an assistant Ohio attorney general representing state Republican officials in this case, wrote if the June 11 election is delayed or canceled it would “be manifestly unfair to Ohio voters and candidates and would destroy public confidence in the integrity of Ohio elections.”

The plaintiffs say the state’s congressional map violates the Voters Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments.

The VRA, approved in 1965, prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color or language. The 14th Amendment grants equal civil and legal rights to African-Americans and the 15th prohibits the federal government and each state from denying or abridging a citizen’s right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” The two amendments were passed after the Civil War.

At a Sept. 9, 2021, ORC meeting, Ray DiRossi – the Ohio Senate Republican Caucus’ director of budget and finance who drew the congressional map with Blake Springhetti, who was the Ohio House Republican Caucus’ budget director at the time – said, “We didn’t use racial data or demographic data for the map” in response to a question about following the VRA.

DiRossi said that was done at the direction of Republican legislative leaders.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th District ruled April 9 that U.S. District Court Judge John R. Adams erred in 2022 when he dismissed the case from the three Youngstown residents contending the VRA and the U.S. Constitution weren’t violated. The appeals court ordered a three-judge panel to hear the matter.

Hearing the case are Adams, U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver and Judge Joan L. Larsen of the 6th District Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit contends that putting Youngstown voters “into a racially polarized voting block of voters located in several racially polarized counties south of Mahoning County and stretching over 165 miles” violates the VRA and the U.S. Constitution.

All of Trumbull County, where Warren is located, was put into the 14th Congressional District, which is also overwhelmingly white.

Large portions of Mahoning and Trumbull – and sometimes the entirety of the two – were in the same congressional district for decades.

The Ohio Supreme Court twice in 2022 found the commission’s congressional map to be unconstitutional, but the second ruling came after that year’s primary. Those who successfully sued in 2022 over the two unconstitutional congressional maps didn’t appeal the existing boundaries for this year’s election because Democrats did better than expected in the 2022 election – winning five of the state’s 15 congressional seats.

A new congressional map is needed for the 2026 election because the one approved in 2022 by the ORC is in effect through this year’s election.

Also, there is an effort from a group called Citizens Not Politicians to get a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and give it to a 15-member citizens group starting with the 2026 election.

The Youngstown residents object to any congressional election this year even though the March 19 primary has passed.


In a Tuesday filing, Squire wrote that the judicial panel should immediately appoint Donald McTigue, an attorney retained by Citizens Not Politicians, as a special master to implement the group’s plan.

While Squire and McTigue are Columbus-based attorneys, both are originally from Youngstown.

The Republican officeholders on Friday opposed the appointment of a special master.

In a May 7 filing, Squire wrote: “Plaintiffs have been denied appropriate process. Their claims have been trivialized. Plaintiffs through this motion respectfully request consideration to which they were entitled two years ago instead of being forced to participate in an election structure that is racially discriminatory.”

Pfeiffer wrote Friday that the plaintiffs “have failed to state a claim which relief can be granted and their complaint should be dismissed.”

Pfeiffer also wrote a federal appeals court determined “that no implied private right of action exists under Section 2 of the VRA based on the review of text and structure of the statute.”

That means private citizens cannot sue to enforce the VRA requirements.

Pfeiffer wrote: “A closer look at the issue makes clear that no private cause of action exists under Section 2 of the VRA. First, the VRA does not textually provide a private cause of action – by its plain language, the statute is enforceable only by the attorney general (of the United States) and not by private citizens. Second, nor does Section 2 of the VRA supply an implied private cause of action because the text and structure of the VRA do not indicate any congressional intent to provide one.”

Any appeal of the three-judge panel’s decision would go directly to the U.S Supreme Court.

The three Youngstown plaintiffs are the Rev. Kenneth Simon, senior pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church; the Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II, lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church; and Helen Youngblood, a former labor leader who is chairwoman of the Mahoning Valley 1619 Project.

In addition to the ORC, other defendants in the case are Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Jason Stephens. The first four were members of the ORC who voted to approve the unconstitutional maps along with Bob Cupp, who was House speaker at the time.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


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