CINCINNATI (CN) – In a win for a group of Democratic voters, a three-judge panel ruled Monday that the former chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee must turn over emails and other documents about the 2011 redistricting of Ohio’s legislative maps.
In May, a coalition of Democratic voters and groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, sued Governor John Kasich and other Republican lawmakers in Cincinnati federal court. They urged the court to enjoin a redistricting statute that the GOP used to redraw maps, arguing it gave an unfair advantage to Republicans at the expense of Democratic voters.
The Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, an advocacy group for black trade unionists, and its co-plaintiffs claim the Republican State Leadership Committee sought to control the redistricting process to “solidify conservative policymaking at the state level, and to maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.”
They also say the committee targeted Ohio and forked out $1 million to promote Republican candidates for the state’s House of Representatives prior to the 2010 election, during which the Republican Party took control of the Ohio Legislature.
GOP officials in Ohio rented a room at the DoubleTree in Columbus to gerrymander the congressional map behind closed doors, according to the lawsuit. The hotel room went by the codename “the bunker” and the officials tasked with redrawing the maps allegedly used their personal email accounts to communicate with each other.
Governor Kasich signed the amended district map in 2011.
The coalition of Democratic groups and voters “allege Ohio’s congressional map was designed to maintain and increase Republican control by packing Democrats into four districts, and cracking Democratic voters across the remaining 12 districts, to ensure Republicans would maintain a 12-4 advantage in Congress,” according to a ruling issued Monday in Cincinnati federal court.
The plaintiffs call the change unconstitutional “because it is a product of partisan gerrymandering.”
They served subpoenas in June to former Republican State Leadership Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and the map drawer, John Morgan, in June, demanding they produce certain documents related to the alleged plan to create a map that would “entrench a Republican majority in Ohio’s congressional delegation through unconstitutional means.”
Gillespie insisted in court that he did not play a role in revising the state’s congressional districts, and cannot provide email correspondence about the redistricting because he forgot his AOL password. He claims he stopped accessing the account after taking on a position at the White House in 2007.
Morgan, who provides electoral map drawing services on a regular basis, claims the services he provided in Ohio were “extremely limited.”
He also claimed in court that it was unlikely he would have used his email account to provide technical support to the committee, and did not use his computer to draft revised maps.
Morgan claims he only found one email regarding his work on the 2011 redistricting in Ohio, but that it was not related to the larger congressional plan at issue.
On Monday, a three-judge panel ordered Gillespie to turn over documents from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2012, that are relevant to the first phase of the national redistricting plan and to the plaintiffs’ claims that Republicans plotted and successfully controlled the redistricting efforts by “flipping” the Ohio House in the 2010 election.
Gillespie must also conduct an email search using specific terms including “Bunker” and “REDMAP” – short for the Redistricting Majority Project – and he is ordered to regain access to his AOL account by using the “forgot password” function.
The court also agreed with the Democratic voters and groups that Morgan’s “vague blanket response” to their requests for records do not constitute a reasonable search of his paper files or computer.
“Similar to Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Morgan’s response seems to demonstrate that he may have taken an unduly restrictive approach to his search,” the 20-page ruling states.
Election district challenges go before a three-judge panel by default, and appeal petitions go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black, a Barack Obama appointee, and George W. Bush appointee Michael Watson joined U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Moore, a Bill Clinton appointee, on the panel.