Redistricting court challenges move forward

GOP battles document requests, commission members can be questioned

By: - October 11, 2021 12:40 am

Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission are sworn in at the Ohio Statehouse in 2021. From left, Senate President Matt Huffman, state Auditor Keith Faber, former House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Sen. Vernon Sykes. House Minority Leader Allison Russo has replaced Emilia Sykes on the ORC. Photo by Susan Tebben

The fight over the legislative redistricting maps is ongoing in the Ohio Supreme Court, with a few wins already registered for opponents of the new maps.

In the three different cases being considered by the state’s highest court, one from the League of Women Voters of Ohio, another from the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and yet another from a group of individual Ohio residents, the focus has been on receiving answers to questions on the process the Ohio Redistricting Commission took in passing the legislative maps, and trading documents on the constitutionality of the maps.

In the most recent ruling, the court said the groups filing the lawsuits should be allowed to question Gov. Mike DeWine, state Senate President Matt Huffman, House Speaker Bob Cupp, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor of State Keith Faber, the GOP members of the redistricting commission.

The court also said documents can be requested and obtained from “nonparties” (those not a part of the commission), but a request for a third party employee of the supreme court to oversee the collection of evidence was denied by the court.

“Any disputes concerning discovery shall be address to the court by motion,” the ruling on Oct. 7 said.

The court said responses to the ruling or any requests for documents or questions about the case are due by Oct. 12, despite dissents by Justices Patrick DeWine and Sharon Kennedy, who said they would have given commission members until Oct. 15, and given parties double the time to question each other.

GOP fights document requests

Before the court issued their ruling, Huffman and Cupp both tried to block the path of the challengers in getting evidence in the case faster.

In an Oct. 6 filing on behalf of the House and Senate leaders, attorneys argued that those filing the lawsuits had agreed that the districts in the final redistricting plan “fully comply with all of the mandatory districting requirements of the Ohio Constitution overwhelmingly approved by Ohio voters in 2015.”

“Just because (map challengers) do not like the perceived political results of a neutrally drawn and otherwise constitutional General Assembly map is no reason for this court to allow (map challengers) to unduly burden and disrupt the duties of the members of the commission, all of whom have constitutional obligations beyond their work on the commission,” the leaders argued in court documents.

Not only are Cupp and Huffman saying they have other legislative work to do outside of redistricting, but they also have to turn to focus to congressional redistricting. The ORC has a deadline of Oct. 31 to come up with a bipartisan-approved district map, otherwise the process heads back to the full legislature for consideration.

“This and other constitutional deadlines regarding congressional districts mean that (Cupp and Huffman) are actively working to ensure that Ohio has legal congressional districts in place,” Huffman and Cupp wrote to the court.

The requests that GOP leaders are calling “extremely burdensome” include the identities of “individuals involved in redistricting, descriptions of their roles,” along with the information on the “knowledge and interpretation of the Ohio Constitution.”

Huffman and Cupp took issue with a further request for communications related to map-drawing and redistricting, which they said includes “dozens of individuals and dozens of entities and their numerous agents.”

“These include, but are not limited to national political parties, any current or former members of the Ohio General Assembly (and their staff), and any current or former U.S. House of Representative or Senator (and their staff and any individuals associated with their PACs),” attorneys for the leaders wrote.

In denying the need to produce requested documents, the leaders said they had “no background knowledge or information regarding the drafting of the vast majority of plans submitted to the commission.”

Huffman and Cupp also claimed that because the lawsuits regard a specific section of state constitution, any evidence or documents beyond “expert disclosures” on that section of the constitution would be “unhelpful” to resolve the case.

“The issues presented in this case simply do not warrant the extremely comprehensive and burdensome discovery sought by (map challengers),” Cupp and Huffman’s attorneys wrote in the court documents.

The two Democratic members of the commission, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, told the court they don’t oppose the challengers in demanding evidence in the case.

“The Court should have the benefit of as much relevant information as reasonably possible, and gathered in a timely fashion, to help it reach the best decision on these issues,” they said in their own filing to the court.

The Democrats also claimed that though they were “purportedly members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission,” they were “systematically shut out of the decision-making process.”

“The only way they, too, might learn what has been done in the name of the commission on which they serve as members will be the discovery procedures that the court can make available in this litigation,” attorneys for the Sykes wrote.

Next steps

Both sides of the lawsuits have until Oct. 22 to file evidence in the case, past the deadline for the depositions of the Republican members of the commission.

After the evidence is filed, oral arguments in front of the Ohio Supreme Court have been scheduled for the beginning of December.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.