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Ohio Republican officials lose bid to dismiss gerrymandering suit over congressional map

August 17, 2018

Ohio Republican officials lose bid to dismiss gerrymandering suit over congressional map

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three federal judges have rejected a request by Republican elected leaders in Ohio to dismiss a lawsuit that says the judges should toss out the state’s congressional district map because it’s gerrymandered.

Judges Karen Nelson Moore, Timothy Black and Michael Watson ruled Wednesday that the constitutional violations the group challenging Ohio’s map allege are still germane despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the issue from earlier this year.

The Supreme Court overturned lower-court decisions in similar gerrymandering lawsuits in Wisconsin and Maryland on technical grounds and did not rule on the merits of the lawsuits themselves. Republican elected officials in Ohio tried to use that ruling as a basis to have the lawsuit filed in May against them dismissed.

The judges disagreed that the Supreme Court case and others preclude them from hearing Ohio’s gerrymandering lawsuit. They also noted that while it’s still early in the litigation and that they cannot decide whether the challenges have merit, the plaintiffs have shown enough for the case to proceed.

(You can read the full order here or at the bottom of this story.)

The ruling is a preliminary one that nonetheless ensures that the judges will take a closer look at Ohio’s congressional maps to see whether Republican officials violated the rights of voters when it created the map.

The current Ohio congressional map was created under secrecy by the Republican majority in 2011. Its result is congressional voting districts that make little geographic sense, stretching more than 100 miles, and predictable results with 12 reliably Republican districts created by packing Democrats into four solidly blue districts.

The three-judge panel relied heavily on the recent Supreme Court decision in its ruling Wednesday. It said the groups suing have standing to bring the suit and have shown, at least early on, that changing the map would address what they say are violations of their constitutional rights.

The groups suing are the Ohio League of Women Voters, the Ohio chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Initiative, Ohio State University college Democrats, the Northeast Ohio Young Black Democrats, the Hamilton County Young Democrats and one Democratic voter in each of Ohio’s 16 districts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed the suit on behalf of the groups against Ohio House Speaker Ryan Smith, Senate President Larry Obhof and Secretary of State Jon Husted.

The judges on Thursday also allowed numerous Republican lawmakers and voters to intervene in the lawsuit. They include 10 Ohio Republican congressmen, the Republican parties in Cuyahoga and Franklin Counties, and voters in several districts. The group argued that the lawsuit will affect them and that they want to participate in the litigation.

Ohioans in May voted overwhelmingly to establish rules aimed at eliminating political gerrymandering in time for the next scheduled map drawing, but those rules would not affect any election until 2022.

The lawsuit seeks to have the new map overturned by the 2020 elections. A bench trial for the lawsuit is set for March 4 in Cincinnati.

The ill effects of gerrymandering, and the need for change, was the focus of a months-long cleveland.com series - Out of Line: Impact 2017 and Beyond. Reform had support from both Republicans and Democrats.

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