Ohio’s fate redistricting cards are now up to the Ohio Supreme Court

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  • (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)
  • Lawyer Phillip Strach speaks at the Ohio Supreme Court arguing for the constitutionality of legislative district maps. The court has heard arguments in three cases asking it to reject the cards approved in September.

Three groups contesting district maps for Ohio House and the Ohio Senate argued Wednesday that the Ohio Supreme Court should reject maps approved by Republican leaders in the state.

The League of Women Voters, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and a group of a dozen Ohio residents pushed the state’s highest court to find the Ohio Redistribution Commission violated the constitution , in particular a provision which they claim prohibits partisan gerrymandering in the state when passed. 5-2 cards along the party lines.

The League highlights Section 11 of the Ohio Constitution – the section that contains the requirements and rules for redistribution – and in particular Section Six, which says the commission should consider federal and state partisan elections during over the past 10 years to identify the political party which historically won districts in the state.

The section is also the part of the constitution that prohibits card designers from unfairly favoring or disadvantaging a particular political party.

“Here, the commission is not choosing between a rock and a hard place,” said ACLU lawyer Freda Levenson, representing the League of Women Voters. “Now we have a commission that says we don’t think we have to comply with this provision of the constitution. ”

According to court documents, an expert witness from LWV said Republicans won 54.5% of the bipartisan vote in Ohio, with Democrats receiving 45.5% in the last 10 years of state elections. . This is the card ratio that anti-gerrymandering groups defended during hearing days with the ORC before the cards were approved.

In the plan approved in September, the League argues that Republicans receive 67% of the House districts and 69% of the Senate.

Republicans, especially Senate Speaker Matt Huffman and House of Commons Speaker Bob Cupp, have called section six of the constitutional requirements “ambitious” because of the wording in the constitution that says leaders of the redistribution “of which to try” to draw constituencies which do not favor or disadvantage a political party. party.

Lawyer Phillip Strach, who has represented Huffman and Cupp in Supreme Court arguments, has touted the section as a “carrot and stick” method to encourage bipartisan teamwork.

“If they can make a deal, they can make a deal; they’ve got a ten-year card, that’s one of the carrots, ”Strach told court.

Strach also claimed that section six is ​​only meant to come into play if there is a violation of anti-gerrymandering rules in the remainder of the redistribution process.

“There has been no allegation, certainly no evidence, that any of these anti-gerrymandering requirements have been violated,” Strach said. “Nothing.”

Levenson argued that all constitutional provisions are necessary and are not dependent on each other, however, even though the GOP considers a section to be “ambitious,” that does not prevent them from making an effort to comply.

“You need an excuse not to meet them, and that’s why you need an attempt,” Levenson said.

The question of the representation of minorities within the State was not overlooked during the pleadings. Attorney Brian Sutherland represented the Ohio Organizing Collaborative on the matter and said the plan violates basic rights without justification and treats some voters differently, in violation of the constitution.

Sutherland said that because of the wrapping and cracking – squeezing minority votes in fewer districts or diluting votes in too many districts – some groups “will not get it. equal opportunities to obtain representation at general assembly level “.

“The harm caused by the packaging is obvious; that should have been obvious when drawing this map, ”Sutherland said.

Supreme Court justices questioned Strach about comments made by members of the Redistribution Commission such as Governor Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who expressed in media and court documents their disappointment at with regard to the process.

“I know the evidence shows that (LaRose) was involved in a lot of meetings, he had a lot of conversations, and at the end of the day Secretary of State LaRose voted for the plan and he testified that ‘he thought it was constitutional,’ says Strach.

Taking the matter further, Judge Michael Donnelly asked Strach if the record showed that LaRose was “extremely frustrated and that he only did so to accompany this partisan vote … as was Governor DeWine.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor referred to an email LaRose sent calling the plan “asinine” and DeWine’s comments wanting a “more constitutional plan,” in O’Connor’s words.

“The legally relevant action here is the vote,” Strach replied. “The vote was the vote, that’s what passed the plan. What people have said about it, we believe, is not legally relevant. ”

Strach said the committee’s duty was “to adopt a plan, it’s a vote yes or no.”

Levenson went so far as to say that the court cannot assume that the leaders of the redistribution focused on constitutionality because the process set out in the constitution “was not followed.”

“The information was not shared between the commissioners and the public was not involved in the process to the extent that the news (constitutional requirements) required it,” Levenson said.

Democratic ORC members are on the side of the card challengers in the affair. State Senator Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, served as co-chair of the redistribution committee, and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes was the other minority member of the committee.

The two Sykes say the commission has not worked towards a common goal, a bipartisan map, and in fact “ignored” the bipartisan rules in the constitution and the possibilities for minority representation in legislative maps.

The state Supreme Court won’t issue its ruling for some time, but dialogue in oral argument on Wednesday showed they are not against rejecting the cards and ordering the ORC to try again.

“Let’s say we don’t agree with you and this tribunal orders the commission to start over,” O’Connor asked. “So what’s going on? Are they offering a new card? ”

Strach said the next steps would depend on the specific ruling and the direction the court provides on how to adhere to the constitution. He went on to say that Section Six needed more definition, in terms of how the commission would calculate voter preferences statewide.

“Section six does not define what this means by statewide preferences,” Strach said. “It could be calculated a hundred different ways. ”

Strach said that after this advice is provided, the commission might produce a new map, or “certain parties” might decide to go to the United States Supreme Court “and say, this Ohio Supreme Court has now ordered us to break federal law by gerrymandering in urban counties, because we cannot gerrymandering in rural counties.

Another possibility is a federal case in which a judge draws the cards if Ohio can’t “get its stuff together,” according to Strach.

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.

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