State asks U.S. Supreme Court to delay gerrymandering order

By Randy Ludlow - The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — State Attorney General Dave Yost asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to stay a federal-court ruling instructing the General Assembly to draw a new congressional map by June 14.

A three-judge panel in Cincinnati ruled one week ago today that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to entrench Republican power and disadvantage Democrats.

Yost asked the justices to set aside the ruling of the judges — who refused on Thursday to stay their own order — pending the resolution of the state’s appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The District Court reached this conclusion by adopting novel legal theories it copied from lower-court cases that this court is now reviewing. That is bad enough on its own, but the relief the court ordered makes its holding even worse,” Yost’s office wrote in its filing.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by June 30 on gerrymandering cases out of North Carolina and Maryland that could uphold the way Ohio’s map was drawn as legal or set out new standards that could make efforts to quickly redesign the 2012 map moot.

“Drafting a map that is ultimately unlikely to be used is exceptionally unfair and confusing for voters and candidates,” said the filing from the first-year Republican attorney general.

Yost suggested that the order to produce a new map by June 14 was too hasty, noting a map only need be produced by Sept. 19 of this year to be used in the 2020 elections.

It would be confusing, and harm voters, to force U.S. House candidates to run in three consecutive elections — 2018, 2020 and 2022 — under differing district boundaries, Yost argued. A new map will be drawn in 2022, after the census, on new voter-approved guidelines designed to lessen gerrymandering.

“Unfair though it may be, a great many intelligent people on the street are likely to view the lower court’s decision as an attempt to evade or frustrate Supreme Court review,” the filing said.

In seeking the stay, the state suggested there is a “fair prospect” that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the lower-court decision or remand it back for further review after its pending gerrymandering ruling.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, one of the parties that filed the gerrymandering lawsuit, called the state’s request for a stay “virtually inevitable.”

“The state’s petition brings our case squarely before the Supreme Court. Now, our trial court’s thorough and scholarly opinion — articulating how it determined Ohio’s extreme and unconstitutional gerrymander — will shine light for the Supreme Court as it considers the other cases before it,” said ACLU-Ohio legal director Freda Levenson.

The federal judges ruled last Friday that Ohio Republicans drew “bizarre” district lines in many cases to illegally pack Republicans into certain districts to benefit GOP candidates and incumbents while packing Democrats into certain urban districts to ensure Democrats had few competitive districts in which to run.

Republicans have held 12 of Ohio’s 16 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives since the new district map was instituted in 2012.

By Randy Ludlow

The Columbus Dispatch

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