Pictured is the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center where the Ohio Supreme Court meets. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons..
The court challengers in a case against Ohio’s U.S. Congressional district map seem to be backing down from the current legal fight.
Attorney Don McTigue represents anti-gerrymandering groups fighting against the congressional map approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which was rejected as unconstitutionally gerrymandered in a 2022 decision by a bipartisan majority on the previous Ohio Supreme Court.
But in a Tuesday filing, the attorney asks that the case be dismissed by the current Ohio Supreme Court.
The argument McTigue makes is that, though the map still unduly favors the GOP and a U.S. Supreme Court case only bolsters the argument for rejection of the congressional map, it’s a matter of timing.
The Ohio Constitution already orders that a new map be redrawn after the 2024 general election, according to McTigue, therefore the map would only be “effective” through 2024, whether or not a new map is drawn.
New court cases could come into play as well, leading to the same confusion voters of the state have seen for the last two years.
“Even assuming (the state) acted with the utmost diligence to draw a new plan … and even if the new plan fully corrects the existing deficiencies … this means that Ohioans would remain in limbo, for months at least, as to what map will be used in 2024,” McTigue wrote to the court.
The last time the commission passed a congressional map was in March 2022, after which legislative leaders, including now-former Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, disputed deadlines established by the state supreme court.
The commission was brought in to adopt a congressional map after the General Assembly-adopted map was found unconstitutional in November 2022.
The argument went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court as Senate President Matt Huffman led the parties who argued the judicial branch couldn’t dictate redistricting matters.
The nation’s highest court did not agree with that assessment, ruling in a separate North Carolina case that enforcement of redistricting rules could lie with the state courts, even as the organization of elections was primarily overseen by the legislative branch.
Having ruled in the North Carolina case, Moore v. Harper, the U.S. Supreme Court then sent Ohio’s case back to the state court for review based on it. State supreme court justices have since asked parties to submit briefs laying out the impact of the Moore v. Harper decision on Ohio’s redistricting moving forward.
McTigue spoke to the Moore case in his brief to the court asking for dismissal.
“The most significant impact that Moore has on this case is a procedural one,” he wrote, adding that because of the decision, “further proceedings would be required for petitioners to obtain the relief that they have requested — namely revisions of that (congressional) plan to remedy its violations of (the Ohio Constitution).”
But circumstances are different than when the case was filed in March of last year, he said. Though the March plan “still reflected undue favoritism for the majority party,” some of the issues had been fixed, according to the anti-gerrymandering parties represented in the lawsuit.
“The March 2 plan partially remedied the undue partisan bias reflected in district lines used in some parts of the state in the November 20 plan, and the court found it did cure the undue subdivision splits of that earlier plan,” the attorney stated.
The circumstances have changed even more than anti-gerrymandering groups mention in requesting their lawsuit dismissal. This time around, the Ohio Supreme Court is helmed by Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy, a supporter of previous maps, instead of age-limited former chief, Maureen O’Connor, who stood as the swing vote in redistricting rulings.
McTigue does maintain that the North Carolina case should not change the state’s prior ruling, even as he attempts to pull the curtain on the congressional case.
“The U.S. Supreme Court thoroughly rejected the argument that state courts cannot hold congressional redistricting maps to requirements in the state’s own constitution,” McTigue wrote. “That is all this court has done.”
Amid the congressional redistricting uncertainty, discussion by the redistricting commission over Ohio General Assembly House and Senate maps, five times rejected as unconstitutional, is set to begin again next week.
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