Ohio redistricting challengers respond to commission members’ requests to dismiss case

By: - November 6, 2023 4:45 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — SEPTEMBER 20: The Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting, September 20, 2023, in the Lobby Hearing Room at the James A. Rhodes Office Tower in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

A group of previous redistricting map challengers has joined in on a challenge to Ohio’s most recently adopted Statehouse maps, asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reject not only the maps, but a motion to dismiss the case.

The Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Ohio Environmental Council, and Council for American-Islamic Relations’ Ohio chapter, along with individual Ohioans, supported comments made in an Oct. 30 brief with the state supreme court opposing requests for dismissal entered by Republican legislators and members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

“At its root, (the motion to dismiss) asks the court to join the Ohio Redistricting Commission in abandoning constitutional obligations to the people of Ohio and to leave voters without recourse against extreme gerrymandering,” the groups stated in their own filing against the motion.

The groups are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, which has been a part of past redistricting lawsuits in the state, and attorneys with the law firm Reed Smith, LLP.

Yurij Rudensky, senior counsel in the democracy program at the Brennan Center said asking the state supreme court to dismiss the lawsuit is asking the court “to forego its role as a check on the commission and as the enforcer of the representational fairness provisions in the Ohio Constitution.”

Granting the dismissal “could wipe out the order that gave the commission the authority to pass maps in September 2023 and leave Ohio without maps ahead of the 2024 election,” Rudensky said in a statement.

GOP members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, in responding to the challenge to the September maps, accused map challengers of attempting their own partisan gerrymander.

State Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and state Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Twp., led the arguments to keep the unanimously adopted maps in place, arguments the rest of the Republican contingent of the Ohio Redistricting Commission agreed with in separate comments to the court.

The two Democratic members of the ORC, House Minority Leader Allison Russo and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, filed jointly with the court saying the court should consider the map challenge.

In an Oct. 19 filing, McColley and LaRe went further, asking the state’s highest court to dismiss the case as a whole, including the previous five Statehouse map rejections from the court in the last two years.

McColley and LaRe, represented by William Stuart Dornette and the Taft, Stettinus & Hollister law firm, claim that the most recent unanimous vote for the maps negates the arguments of the previous map challenges.

“Any objections that petitioners, or some of them, have to the current bipartisan districting plan cannot be based on the allegations in any of their complaints,” attorneys for the legislators stated.

The motion for dismissal also argues the case should not even be considered by the Ohio Supreme Court, because the lawsuit does not present a redistricting challenge, but instead focuses on the previous partisan votes of the commission and the process that led to map adoption.

“Because the complaints all allege facts demonstrably false as they relate to the (redistricting) plan that exists today and the process by which the commission adopted it, those complaints can provide no basis for this court to take any action, and they should be dismissed,” the motion states.

McColley and LaRe also revert back to arguments about the necessity to adhere to what map challengers have called required proportionality, included in Section 6 of the state constitutional amendment that reformed redistricting in the state before the commission began its work two years ago.

That section directs the commission to adopt maps that match the partisan election trends of the last 10 years, without inappropriately favoring one political party over another.

Previous members of the GOP majority, including Senate President Matt Huffman when he was a member of the commission, made the argument that Section 6 was “aspirational,” and the most recent motion before the court keeps with that theme.

“Section 6 speaks not of doing something, but of attempting to do something,” attorneys for McColley and LaRe state. “It is not an objective standard, but a subjective one with no requirement that the commission succeed in its attempt.”

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s elections chief and also a commission member, released his own motion to dismiss, standing behind McColley and LaRe’s arguments, but also bringing up 2024 primary election deadlines as a factor in deciding the case.

“Any delay to critical elections deadlines such as the deadline for the filing of declarations of candidacy could have a negative impact on the administration of the 2024 election,” LaRose wrote in his filing, represented by the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

But map challengers pointed to a previous court filing by McColley and LaRe when the Sept. 2023 maps were initially challenged, in which the two said they “agree with petitioners that this court’s review of the commission’s adopted map and its constitutionality is specifically contemplated” by the court in previous decisions.

“(McColley and LaRe) agree as well that such review is important to the people of the state of Ohio, to the state’s government, including its General Assembly, to the redistricting process, and to the credibility of whatever plan determines districts for the next election,” the legislators said in their Sept. 26 filing.

They went on to say the review is important to avoid a delay in the 2024 election cycle in general, but also to avoid an election “conducted under the same cloud suspicion that districts were not appropriately drawn as the state experienced in 2022.”

The challengers say the new motion to dismiss now on the table for the court not only contradicts McColley and LaRe’s previous comments, but also “two years of litigation over Ohio’s General Assembly plans.”

“There is simply no justification for (McColley and LaRe’s) change in position or significant delay,” attorney Don McTigue wrote in the challenging groups’ joint response to the court.



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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.