Justices set additional ground rules

Ohio’s gerrymandering cases creep their way toward Dec. 8 oral arguments

By Andrew J. Tobias - cleveland.com

Ohio Statehouse

Ohio Statehouse

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As state lawmakers continue the process of approving a new set of Ohio congressional maps before the end of the month, Ohio Supreme Court justices have set additional ground rules for a December court hearing on challenges to new state legislative maps.

The order handed down Friday approved requests from two sets of groups suing over the state legislative maps to argue their cases in court. Justices previously set a Dec. 8 hearing over a lawsuit led by the ACLU of Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio. The Friday decision allows a coalition of Ohio groups led by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group associated with Eric Holder, the former Obama-era attorney general, to argue their cases on that date, too.

The three sets of groups, plus Democratic state legislative leaders who voted against the new state legislative maps, will get 30 minutes in court to split among themselves. The Republican state officials who approved the maps and now are defending against the lawsuits will get the same amount of time. The lawsuits trying to get the maps thrown out all make substantially similar arguments, calling the Republican-drawn maps illegally gerrymandered in violation of the state’s new redistricting rules.

The case will hinge on whether the new rules, which direct map-makers to “attempt” to draw maps that award a proportionate amount of districts to each party, are mandatory or not. Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a special state legislative committee on Friday held its second, legally required hearing on proposed new Ohio congressional maps. Like the state legislative maps, the congressional maps are being drawn under new rules approved by voters. The Joint Redistricting Committee, made up of three Republican legislators and two Democratic ones, is considering four map proposals previously introduced by Ohio House Republicans, Ohio Senate Republicans, Ohio House Democrats and Ohio Senate Democrats. It’s unclear which proposal majority Republicans prefer.

Each proposal also is being considered separately by House and Senate committees.

It’s also unclear whether the joint committee will perform any official function beyond hearing testimony — Republican and Democratic members of the commission said Friday they weren’t sure.

Sen. Theresa Gavarone, a Bowling Green Republican who is a co-chair of the joint committee also also chairs a Senate committee reviewing Senate map proposals, said she doesn’t know when the next steps in the process will occur.

“There a number of different maps right now, and we’re going to continue working through those. We heard from a lot of different people, a lot of testimony, and we’ll continue to work through the process to meet all the constitutional requirements,” she said.

State Rep. Beth Liston, a Democrat from suburban Columbus who sits on the committee, said she thinks the constitutional language requiring the joint committee to meet intended for it to air out a consensus map that the public could comment on before it was approved, not just to further consider various competing map proposals.

“I think the intent was to have a proposal that had robust public comment and input so that it would be reflective of the wishes of the community,” Liston said. “And I don’t see that’s what’s happened here.”

The legislature must approve new congressional maps by a Nov. 30 legal deadline.

Ohio Statehouse
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Ohio’s gerrymandering cases creep their way toward Dec. 8 oral arguments

By Andrew J. Tobias


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