Ohio political mapmakers ordered to face state’s high court


By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Members of Ohio’s political map-making panel were ordered Thursday to appear before the Ohio Supreme Court, as pressure grew on the body to find consensus on lines for U.S. House and state legislative districts that can satisfy both political parties and the high court.

The group includes Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, whose son, Justice Pat DeWine, recused himself from the proceeding, scheduled for Tuesday. Commission members — who also include Ohio’s secretary of state, auditor, House speaker and minority leader and Senate president, as well as an additional senator — are allowed to bring their lawyers.

The faceoff would be the most dramatic turn to date between the stalemated Ohio Redistricting Commission and the divided court, which has repeatedly invalidated by 4-3 votes gerrymandered maps being sent to it from up the block at the Ohio Statehouse.

The commission planned to meet again Thursday, though no concrete action was on its agenda.

The conflict is unfolding with the fate of Ohio’s May 3 primary at stake. Both the secretary of state, who runs elections, and the state attorney general, who serves as the state’s lawyer, have urged a state Legislature controlled by fellow Republicans to move the date to avoid violations of state and federal law.

So far, no GOP-backed effort to do so has emerged. House Democrats introduced legislation last month to shift the date a month, to June 7, anticipating potential delays associated with redistricting.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose was compelled to certify 2022 primary ballots earlier this week with names of candidates whose races are tied to the missing maps omitted. Attorney General Dave Yost warns “a thousand” legal questions will arise if the primary is not moved soon.

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman, a member of the commission, said Wednesday that GOP mapmakers could present updated legislative maps for a vote as soon as Thursday.

That pledge of coming action was among reasons the commission and its members cited in seeking a reprieve from threatened contempt of court charges tied to blowing past a Feb. 17 deadline for action imposed by the Supreme Court.

However, Democratic state Sen. Vernon Sykes, the panel’s co-chair, said his party has not been involved in those discussions — portending perhaps a third round of party-line voting on any new plan.

Already, the commission has sent two Republican-drawn, Republican-supported sets of legislative maps to the Ohio Supreme Court, only to have both invalidated as unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Each would have been good for only four years, rather than the 10 years envisioned to adjust for the once-per-decade U.S. Census, because they lacked any Democratic votes.

Litigation pending before a federal court from a group of Republican voters asks for the panel’s most recent map to be used this year, though it’s been invalidated. It’s not yet clear what the federal court’s role might be in the disagreement, as Ohio voters gave the Ohio Supreme Court original and exclusive jurisdiction in the fledgling redistricting process.

And the 99 seats in the Ohio House and 33 seats in the Ohio Senate aren’t the only ones at issue. The high court also has invalidated a map of U.S. House districts approved by the state Legislature and signed by DeWine.

Lawmakers punted their opportunity to redraw that map to the commission, citing the fact that any bill they passed without the support of Democrats would have lacked a crucial time-saving emergency clause.

The Redistricting Commission has until March to submit the updated congressional map, which must account for Ohio’s loss of one U.S. House seat due to lagging population. The adjustment takes the state to 15 representatives, down from the current 16.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press