The Ohio Supreme Court heard a second round of gerrymandering arguments in less than a month.
They are being asked to decide whether the new state congressional district map is unconstitutional, by some of the same groups that have also sued the new Ohio State House and Senate district maps. .
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor began by welcoming lawyers and online viewers to arguments on two cases challenging the Ohio Congressional map approved by the Ohio Redistribution Commission, followed by a party line vote by Republican state lawmakers last month.
The Ohio Supreme Court has been in person since September, but these cases were suddenly added to the roll between Christmas and New Years.
Ben Stafford of the Elias Group, who challenged the maps drawn by Republicans in several states, advocated for a group of voters representing the National Redistricting Action Fund of former US Attorney General Eric Holder and the League of Women Voters of Ohio. These groups have also been implicated in lawsuits over Ohio state legislative maps.
Stafford said expert analysis shows Republicans could win 12 of the 15 districts in this new congressional map, in violation of a 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment to end the partisan district selection process. of Congress.
“This case is about how the General Assembly thumbed its nose at these reforms and adopted a plan that clearly violates new section 19 anti-gerrymandering protections,” Stafford told the court.
Stafford and civil rights attorney Robert Fram argued that a partisan map would not have allowed the geography of Ohio to be simply used to create the map. Fram said the 80% Republican and 20% Democratic result was only achieved through the county split.
âWhen we see a substantial deviation from compactness that results in a substantial increase in partisan gains, it indicates that we have an unduly partisan party here, favoring a political party,â Fram said.
Earlier this month, the court withdrew from prosecution Democrats on the Cutting Commission, Sen. Vernon Sykes and Parliamentary Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, as well as Republican Members, Auditor Keith Faber and Governor Mike. DeWine, who is also the father of judge Pat DeWine. That left Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Speaker of the Senate Matt Huffman, and President Bob Cupp, all Republicans.
Phillip Strach, a lawyer from North Carolina, argued for the card they approved.
“This case involves a congressional district plan that fully complies with section 19 of the state’s Constitution and was the most constitutional of all plans submitted to the General Assembly,” Strach said.
Strach said the other party’s analysis is deeply flawed due to human interference, and simply using geography would have created a Republican map as well.
He reiterated Republican leaders’ claims that this map has six GOP seats and two Democratic seats with seven competitive districts, and only divides 12 counties – just over half of the allowed number – and two counties, Hamilton and Summit. , twice.
Democratic justice Melody Stewart asked him about it: âIt’s almost like you’re saying it’s not as rude as it could have been.
“Your Honor, I’m just saying that the Constitution allows five counties to be divided twice, so the General Assembly could legally have done that,” Strach replied.
Ohio has had a congressional delegation of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats since the current card was first used in 2012.
Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is seen as a deciding vote as she sided with the minority to reject the current card in 2011. She asked Strach why he kept comparing the new card to the ‘current, which is considered one of the most gerrymandered. cards in the country and arguably triggered the 2018 vote to change the process.
âIf you compare it to this plan, which was criticized but never canceled, if you look at this plan, it’s clearly -â Strach began his response.
O’Connor interrupted him: “Sir, haven’t the people canceled that? I mean, maybe not ‘canceled’ in us or some other tribunal, but the people in their vote canceled. what had been done at this point, right? “
Strach reaffirmed his argument that this new map has more competitive ridings and therefore is less partisan, which voters wanted, and also said lawmakers did not have other maps that would be better.
In his follow-up, Stafford said this new map is more gerrymandered than the one from 2011. And he concluded with an analogy that might be understandable but perhaps difficult just weeks after OSU lost the Big Game.
âIf Ohio State has to spot Michigan with a two touchdown lead every year, it could make the game more competitive. The rules are set to favor one team over the other, and that’s exactly what they’ve done here with their supposedly competitive districts, âsaid Stafford.
The law that created the new Congress card sets a March 4 filing deadline for candidates for a May primary. Secretary of State LaRose filed a brief that did not defend the constitutionality of the card but called for a quick ruling.
The decisions on that map and the maps of the State House and Senate debated in court a few weeks ago are expected shortly.