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Maps go to US Supreme Court

David Skolnick

Rather than draw a new congressional map, Republican state legislative leaders filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court contending the one they approved is constitutional.

Along political partisan lines, the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2 approved a congressional map that gives Republicans significant advantage in districts that lean right.

A previous map, approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature, was rejected as unconstitutional Jan. 14 by the Ohio Supreme Court over gerrymandering issues.

The state Supreme Court rejected the second map for the same reasons July 19.

But by the time of the second court decision, the May 3 primary date had passed and primary elections for congressional seats had been held.

The Republican leaders appealed, calling the state court decision “fundamentally flawed.”

The appeal was filed by House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, Lima Republicans who served on the redistricting commission for most of its term, as well as state Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet, and state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, who replaced them and weren’t involved in the congressional map issue.

Their joint statement read: “While many believe that the Ohio Supreme Court majority misinterpreted state law, there is also the broader concern that the court assumed a role the federal constitution does not permit it to exercise. This is a matter that needs resolution by our nation’s highest court. The United States Constitution expressly puts the responsibility to prescribe ‘the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives’ … with the legislature of each state.”

The “times, places and manner” is based on the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause and has similarities to language used by North Carolina Republicans, who challenged that state’s Supreme Court’s decision on a map under the “independent state legislature theory.”

Opponents argue the theory relies on a misinterpretation of the U.S. Constitution as it is considered to refer to the state legislative process. The legal theory has been rejected by previous U.S. Supreme Courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments Dec. 7 and could have a decision by next spring. That would have far-reaching consequences for numerous states, including Ohio, which would allow the party in control to draw congressional maps as members see fit.

Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington and a redistricting commission member, called the Republican appeal overreach.

“It has been made perfectly clear over and over again that the power grab being attempted to take away Ohioans basic freedom to vote fairly is nothing but unlawful,” she said. “The power belongs to the people, and this is just another blatant attempt by Republicans to ignore, erode and overrule the democratic process guaranteed in the Ohio and U.S. Constitutions.”

Russo said Huffman was one of the “key authors” of the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved in 2018 by Ohio voters to make changes to congressional redistricting. That language also gave the Ohio Supreme Court jurisdiction over the constitutionality of Ohio’s maps, she said.

The Equal Districts Coalition, a group of more than 30 progressive organizations that advocated for the redistricting process in Ohio, said: “Ohio’s top Republicans must assume Ohioans have incredibly short memories. These are the same politicians who chose to give our state Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction over Ohio’s redistricting process. Now that their own laws are standing in their way of cementing their gerrymandered districts, Republicans want the laws overturned so they can force illegal maps into place. …

“Everyone but the most radical, right wing extremists agrees state courts have the final say on interpreting and applying state constitutional law. The final hope for Ohio’s top Republicans is that the U.S. Supreme Court is now made up of such extremists. For democracy’s sake, let us hope they are wrong.”

In two 4-3 decisions to strike down the congressional district maps — and five 4-3 decisions to reject state legislative maps approved by the redistricting commission — Ohio’s Supreme Court said the maps unfairly favored Republicans.

The court pointed to voting trends during statewide partisan elections during the past decade that showed 54 percent backed Republicans and 46 percent supported Democrats, saying the map should reflect that.

The congressional map approved by the commission gives Republicans a 10-3 advantage with two tossup seats that slightly lean Democratic.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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