CINCINNATI (CN) – Witness testimony wrapped up Wednesday afternoon to conclude an eight-day bench trial that will determine the constitutionality of Ohio’s electoral map, which critics say gives Republicans a clear advantage in congressional races after districts were redrawn following the 2010 census.
U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black adjourned the court after instructions regarding objections to evidence and witness testimony were given to the parties.
None of the attorneys chose to make closing arguments.
Judge Black commended the lawyers on their work in the case, saying he was “remarkably impressed by each and every attorney.”
U.S. District Judge Michael Watson echoed the sentiments of his colleague.
“This has been an exceptionally well-lawyered case,” Judge Watson told the courtroom.
“This is not easy material to wrestle with. These are not easy issues to wrestle with. I look forward to never having to do it again,” he added.
Election district challenges go before a three-judge panel by default, and appeal petitions go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Black and Watson are joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Moore.
The trial is the result of a May 2018 lawsuit filed by a group of Democratic voters backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute and the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
They allege Republican lawmakers, including then-Governor John Kasich, used 2010 gains in the Legislature to pass an unconstitutional redistricting bill and pull off “one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history,” giving the GOP a firm 12-4 advantage in the state’s congressional districts.
Democrat Marcy Kaptur, Ohio’s longest serving congresswoman, testified as a rebuttal witness for the ACLU on Wednesday morning.
Kaptur, who joined via video conference, has represented Ohio’s 9th Congressional District in the northeast part of the state since 1982.
The congresswoman said she was “astonished” when the current voting map was revealed, and that Republicans had “cracked every single county I had ever represented.”
“It was actually sinister,” she added.
Kaptur recounted a phone call she made to then-Congressman John Boehner’s office to protest the new map, which she said had cut her church and family cemetery out of the district.
While she couldn’t remember who she talked to at Boehner’s office, she said “they laughed and hung up.”
Attorney Mark Braden from the D.C. firm Baker and Hostetler cross-examined Kaptur on behalf of the intervenor defendants – Republican House members from Ohio – and pointed out that the congresswoman’s office was unable to produce any documents regarding any protest of the map before it was approved by the Ohio Legislature.
Kaptur admitted she had not contacted any member of the Legislature prior to the map’s release, but called the current map “a radical gerrymander.”
“Ohio’s [represented] 12-4 in a state that votes 50-50,” she told the court, adding that Republicans “got a good deal out of it.”
No timetable has been set for a verdict in the trial.
In their lawsuit, the Democratic voters claimed GOP officials used a Columbus hotel room codenamed “the bunker” to formulate their plans and develop what would eventually become House Bill 369.
The bill was passed in 2011 and “was designed to create an Ohio congressional delegation with a 12 to 4 Republican advantage – and lock it in for a decade,” according to the lawsuit.