Challenge to Ohio Maps Renewed After High-Court Punt

CINCINNATI (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said Tuesday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to sidestep two partisan-redistricting cases helped clarify its legal claims in an amended gerrymandering lawsuit against state officials.

Last month, a group of Democratic voters and the ACLU sued Governor John Kasich and other Republican lawmakers in Cincinnati federal court. They urged a judge to enjoin a 2011 redistricting statute that the GOP used to redraw maps, arguing it gave an unfair advantage to Republicans at the expense of Democratic voters.

The Supreme Court declined last week to rule on the constitutionality of the partisan redistricting that allegedly favors one political party over another. In two separate cases, Democrats had challenged maps drawn by Republicans in Wisconsin, while Republicans had fought the legality of a Democratic plan to redraw a congressional district in Maryland.

The nation’s highest court vacated a ruling in the Wisconsin case, saying that the lower court must better address on remand whether the voters have standing. Meanwhile, the justices affirmed denial of an injunction in the Maryland case, finding that the plea for immediacy rings hollow when the plaintiffs waited to seek relief six years and three general elections after the 2011 map was adopted.

Now, in light of those Supreme Court rulings, ACLU Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson said the group sees a clearer path forward in their case against Ohio officials and it filed an amended complaint Tuesday.

“While the Supreme Court punted on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, the decisions gave us helpful guidance on how to carry out our litigation in Ohio,” Levenson said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “We are confident that our complaint is not susceptible to either of the shortcomings that the court addressed in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases.”

Ohio’s map was redrawn to give conservatives a 12-to-4, Republican-to-Democrat ratio in the state’s congressional delegation and to keep that advantage for a decade, according to the ACLU.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute sued along with 16 Democratic voters. The amended complaint adds Northeast Ohio Young Black Democrats, the Ohio State University College Democrats, and the Hamilton County Young Democrats as plaintiffs.

In May, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted questioned why the ACLU had chosen to sue when voters had passed an anti-gerrymandering measure in that month’s primary elections.

“These groups should respect the will of Ohio’s voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment earlier this month that established a new, bipartisan process for drawing congressional districts starting in 2021,” Husted said in a statement.

On Monday, the Supreme Court also said it would not review the decision of a federal court in North Carolina that found GOP lawmakers had unconstitutionally redrawn maps in a way that tipped elections in their party’s favor. The high court sent the case back to the trial court to determine if the plaintiffs have legal standing to pursue their claims.

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