Ohio GOP Loses Bid to Block Gerrymander Ruling

CINCINNATI (CN) – The Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature, joined by several state congressional representatives, failed Thursday in its attempt to stay an injunction that requires it to draw a new electoral map before the 2020 election.

David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, holds a map displaying the wide disparity of Ohio congressional district office locations. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The motion to stay filed Monday night came on the heels of a three-judge panel’s decision last week that found the current map an unconstitutional gerrymander, and ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision in two similar cases.

Larry Householder, speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, urged the panel to stay its injunction pending the outcome of Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, both of which were argued before the nation’s highest court earlier this year.

“Those two cases,” the motion said, “collectively present precisely the same issues as this case: whether so-called partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional; if so, whether those suits are justiciable; and, if they are, what standards the constitutionality of congressional maps are to be judged by. In all likelihood, the court will issue its decisions on or near the last day of the term in June.”

Householder and other Republican members of the Legislature unsuccessfully argued that being forced to replace the map before the Supreme Court’s decisions will cause irreparable harm.

“If the Supreme Court ultimately holds that partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable, or if it issues any other decision that would require reexamination of this court’s decision, then the General Assembly will have been needlessly pressured into either repealing a validly enacted law or wasting resources trying to accommodate a mooted decision,” the motion states.

The three-judge panel denied the motion in a terse, three-page opinion Thursday, and accused the Republican lawmakers of attempting to relitigate issues that had already been decided at trial.

The opinion also emphasized the need to stick to the court’s Sept. 20, 2019, deadline for a redrawn map.

“The court needs sufficient time to assess properly whether any potential state-enacted remedial plan is constitutionally acceptable,” the ruling states. “Ensuring a remedial plan is in place prior to the deadline is the optimal way to avoid voter confusion.”

The panel is made up of U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Moore and U.S. District Judges Timothy Black and Michael Watson. Election district challenges implicating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act go before a three-judge panel by default, and appeals go directly to the Supreme Court.

A number of Republican officials and organizations intervened in the action, including the Franklin County Republican Party, the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, and Congressmen Steve Chabot, Jim Jordan and others.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, said the stay denial was expected.

“The state is entitled to appellate review of the invented legal standard in the trial court’s decision, and will ask the Supreme Court to stay the decision pending its ruling on similar cases already before it,” Yost said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case on behalf of a group of Democratic voters, did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on the ruling.

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