Second lawsuit challenges Ohio legislature maps

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 5:25 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The second lawsuit in as many days was filled Friday with the Ohio Supreme Court over the state’s newly-approved General Assembly maps.

Friday’s suit was filed on behalf of individual voters with the support of the National Redistricting Action Fund, a group backed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Thursday, the ACLU challenged the maps in court on behalf of voting-rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

Both suits ask the court to declare the maps unconstitutional and argue the Ohio Redistricting Commission gave Republicans an unfair advantage.

“These Ohio maps are a failure in almost every way,” Holder said in a statement. “They fail to reflect the will of Ohio voters and, ultimately, fail to meet the requirements of the state constitution. The Ohio Supreme Court should throw them out and direct the commission to start again, this time adhering to the principles of fairness outlined in the reforms that were overwhelmingly supported by the people of Ohio in 2015.”

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2015 with the goal of scaling back gerrymandering in Ohio. It says that the maps shouldn’t favor or disfavor a political party and should correspond to the statewide preference of voters.

The reform efforts also aimed to create a bipartisan process to draw new political boundaries. The commission approved the maps in a party-line, 5-2 vote.

Republicans estimate their maps give them more than two-thirds of seats in the House and Senate, despite averaging 55 percent of the votes in statewide elections over the last ten years.

If the Supreme Court finds the maps unconstitutional, it will order the commission to redraw the maps.

“This this reform has not failed yet, because part of the guardrail is actually this backstop of going to the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Ohio League of Women Voters President Jen Miller.

In a call with reporters on Friday, Holder said Ohio’s maps are part of a larger “anti-democratic” strategy by Republicans to gerrymander maps in order to secure majorities in state legislatures and Congress.

Ohio Senate GOP spokesperson John Fortney responded to Holder’s suit Friday afternoon.

“First Barack Obama’s lawyer sued, now Hillary Clinton’s lawyer sued. Two of the most partisan, far-left, polarizing figures in politics want to lecture Ohio voters about fairness. Those ‘non-partisan’ voter groups finally showed how partisan and politically motivated they really are,” Fortney said.

Holder responded to claims that Democrats are gerrymandering maps in other states, including New York and Oregon, in order to secure their own majorities.

“There’s no need for Democrats to do what Republicans have done,” Holder said, adding that he was not pleased with some proposals coming out of Oregon. Democrats there moved ahead on their own after negotiations with Republicans stalled to create their own maps that secure a 5-1 Democratic majority in Congress.

Mark Elias, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the NRAF’s lawsuit, said the two lawsuits are “complementary” and common to see in voting rights and redistricting litigation.

In a court filing Friday in the ACLU’s lawsuit, lawyers laid out their suggested timeline that includes ending oral arguments by November 24.

”Time is of the essence,” the lawyers said in court documents. They want a plan in place for the state’s legislative districts by January 30, 2022 in order for candidates to meet the February 2, 2022 filing deadline.

Holder said early deadlines can be flexible and he wants to prioritize having fair maps instead of meeting deadlines.

“Be sensitive, but don’t let the deadlines be the determinant,” Holder said. “Let’s get this right for the American people. Let’s get this right for Democracy. That should be the ultimate focus.”

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