COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s newly drawn legislative district maps were hit Friday with the second lawsuit in two days that alleges Republican gerrymandering that violated the state constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in the Ohio Supreme Court by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee's legal arm on behalf of a group of Ohio voters, challenges maps of Ohio House and Ohio Senate districts passed last week along party lines by the GOP-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission.
It is the group's first lawsuit nationally of the redistricting cycle tied to the 2020 census, attorney Marc Elias told reporters in a briefing.
Elias said Friday's litigation is complementary to a suit filed Thursday by the ACLU on behalf of the League of Women Voters, A. Philip Randolph Institute and individuals, raising some similar and some different constitutional violations.
The complaint goes further in challenging additional aspects of the map-drawing process, including draft maps being drawn behind closed doors, public hearings being held when maps weren't yet available to react to, and a required deadline being missed.
NDRC Chairman Eric Holder, attorney general under former President Barack Obama, said the maps — estimated to produce 67% of the House districts and 69% of Senate districts to favor Republicans — aim to deliver unearned power to Republicans. The state's partisan leanings are roughly 54% Republican, 46% Democratic.
“They have not earned that level of representation of Ohio voters," Holder said. “In fact, over the past decade, even with maps that were painfully gerrymandered and aiding them, Ohio Republicans earned just over 54% of the vote statewide for state legislative offices.”
The litigation also quotes concerns raised publicly by three Republican statewide officeholders who sit on the redistricting commission, using the words of Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber to help make the case for unconstitutionality.
Republican Senate President Matt Huffman, who led the Republican map-making effort, has defended the maps as fair and constitutionally compliant — criticizing Democrats and special interest groups for thwarting a bipartisan deal.
“First Barack Obama’s lawyer sued and now Hillary Clinton’s lawyer sued," John Fortney, a spokesman for Huffman said Friday. "Two of the most partisan, far left, polarizing figures in politics want to lecture Ohio voters about fairness. The so called non-partisan voter groups finally showed how partisan and politically motivated they really are.”
The Ohio Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction in deciding the map challenges. Justices face some pressure to act quickly, should they decide to send the maps back to the drawing board. Candidates must register for 2022 elections on Feb. 2.