Federal court won’t intervene in Ohio’s congressional districts
Decision matches ruling to wait out resolution on legislation redistricting
Ohio’s joint committee on congressional redistricting, who met last November to hear more public input on four proposed congressional maps. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)
A federal three-judge panel still waiting on an Ohio legislative redistricting plan said Tuesday it won’t jump into congressional redistricting right now either.
Chief Judge Algenon Marbley and judges Amul Thapar and Benjamin Beaton, representing the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Ohio said a request by two Youngstown voters to wipe out the congressional maps “exceeds the scope of their intervention.”
“The court did not contemplate sweeping congressional redistricting, which is a wholly distinct process, into this lawsuit,” the judges wrote in a decision filed Tuesday.
The voters, represented by attorney Percy Squire, wanted the most recent congressional maps to be removed, arguing GOP mapmakers did not include racial data when drawing district lines, thus discriminating against marginalized Ohioans. Their arguments were added by the judges to another lawsuit filed by GOP voters. That lawsuit specifically addressed legislative districts, and asked that a legislative map rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court be used in the May 3 primary.
The congressional map, which was passed by the GOP-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission last month, hasn’t been rejected by the Supreme Court, unlike previous versions of the map. The state’s highest court rejected a challenge to the maps, with justices saying a new lawsuit would need to be filed to bring jurisdiction of the maps back to the court. Those new lawsuits came in quickly after the court’s ruling, but since then, the ACLU chose to challenge the map for the 2024 election rather than 2022, effectively opening the door for the maps to be used in this year’s election.
Congressional races were included on ballots for the May primary, for which absentee and early voting has already started.
The federal judges said claims to change congressional redistricting plans “would not have passed this court’s intervention analysis” in the first place, despite the fact that both plans came through the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“Though both varieties of redistricting involve the commission, they are separate tasks utilizing independent standards and resulting in different district boundaries for General Assembly members versus Congressmembers,” the three-judge panel ruled.
The best course of action for the Youngstown residents was to file a new lawsuit in the Northern District court (the federal court closest to Youngstown) and start the process over again, the judges wrote.
That said, the judges allowed the residents to stay in the lawsuit still being decided by the federal court, “for the purposes originally identified: addressing their constitutional challenge to the remedy or remedies sought with respect to the General Assembly redistricting.”
The federal court has given the state until April 20 to resolve legislative plan issues, which includes hearing a decision from the supreme court on the newest legislative maps, which only are slightly different from the third map rejected by the Supreme Court.
Also open-ended at this point is the possibility of a contempt hearing for members of the redistricting commission, for which the Supreme Court asked for reasoning as to why the members shouldn’t be held in violation of orders from that court. The GOP redistricting members have said contempt wouldn’t be appropriate because they passed a map before the deadline.
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