First Posted: 9/6/2014
In the future, if U.S. District Senior Judge Peter C. Economus opens a dictionary and looks up “judicial activism,” he is likely to see his own photograph.
Apparently Economus, a President Bill Clinton appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio who took senior status in 2009, thinks he is secretary of state and the legislature as well as a federal judge.
On Feb. 19, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law that ended the so-called Golden Week, a week where a voter could register and vote on the same day. Senate Bill 238 set the beginning of early voting on Oct. 7.
Then Secretary of State John Husted issued a directive on Feb. 25 that set uniform hours of voting for all 88 counties. This had the effect of cutting some weekend and evening hours in some urban counties.
On Thursday, Economus shot down the law and Husted’s directive and ordered early voting to begin Sept. 30, effectively reinstating Golden Week. Economus found the law and Husted’s directive to be “unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965” because the rights of blacks who vote early would be harmed.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit (NAACP v. Husted) included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs by arguing that reductions in early voting disproportionately affect blacks, who cast early in-person ballots at a higher rate than whites.
It is a hard argument to swallow that black voters will somehow be harmed because they will only have 29 days to vote rather than 36 days, the same as everyone else. For more than two centuries, Ohioans only had one day to vote.
Ohioans have more opportunities to vote than most other Americans. On Aug. 29, Husted mailed every registered voter in the state an application for an absentee ballot. Ohioans can vote without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.
Seriously, if you can’t find time to vote in 29 days, then perhaps you lack the requisite incentive to vote.
What is baffling is that the judge, on June 11 in a different case (Obama for America v. Husted), said failure to set a uniform voting schedule would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Husted shall be responsible for setting business hours for such voting to preserve the right of all Ohio voters to cast his or her vote with said hours to be uniform throughout the State,” the judge wrote.
Yet, in his latest ruling, each county can have different days and hours for voting, creating an unequal system that would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“This same judge said we had to implement fair and uniform days and hours’ of operation for elections in Ohio. Now he seems to say counties can set their own days and hours of operation,” Husted said. This “ruling kicks the door open to having different rules for voting in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, which is not fair and uniform and was not even acceptable to this court or the plaintiffs previously.
“We must appeal this ruling, because we can’t simultaneously treat people the same and differently,” Husted added. “I have been consistent. This ruling is not.”
As if shooting down Husted was not enough, Economus then told the General Assembly that before the 2016 election, it is “charged with the responsibility of passing legislation consistent with this memorandum.”
Such a statement is certainly beyond the powers of a federal judge and violates the Constitution’s Separation of Powers Doctrine.
“The Ohio legislature doesn’t take marching orders from a federal judge,” said state Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, the No. 2 House leader. “A federal judge knows that.”
We urge Husted to appeal this ludicrous decision and hope that a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati has more sense and less partisanship than Economus.