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Ohio Republicans take fight over congressional district map to the U.S. Supreme Court

Different drafts of Ohio congressional district maps from the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Different drafts of Ohio congressional district maps from the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

Republican leaders in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate have filed an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling against the GOP-drafted congressional district map — using language similar to the what's been called the independent state legislature theory.

House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima), Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), and Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.) said in a joint statement that they believe the Ohio Supreme Court ruling on July 19, against their congressional district map, was “fundamentally flawed.”

The statement said, “While many believe that the Ohio Supreme Court majority misinterpreted state law, there is also the broader concern that the court assumed a role the federal constitution does not permit it to exercise. This is a matter that needs resolution by our nation’s highest court.”

The Republican legislative leaders said their argument is based on the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause which says “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof…”

This is the same language used in a similar U.S. Supreme Court case between North Carolina Republican legislative leaders and the North Carolina Superior Court.

The independent state legislature theory — which has been considered a nontraditional doctrine with no basis in law — argues that state lawmakers have sole authority over issues related to the elections of congressional members and therefore those issues are not in a state supreme court’s jurisdiction.

“They're using a dangerous fringe legal theory to excuse their bad behavior of rigging legislative districts to benefit themselves and their friends,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

Miller is among collection of voter rights advocates and community organizations that have been fighting against the new district maps passed by Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. They have argued those maps are gerrymandered to favor the Republican party.

Read: What is the independent state legislature theory and what does it mean for Ohio?

The 15-district congressional map that was rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court created 10 Republican-safe districts, three Democratic-safe districts, and two toss-up districts that leaned in favor of Democrats.

That gives Republicans a 66% advantage for Ohio’s congressional delegation in a state that splits 54% Republican and 46% Democratic.

Miller said they plan to fight against the appeal and will likely attempt to go back to the voters and once again reform the state constitution to change the redistricting process.

“We're not going to stop until we finally end gerrymandering here in Ohio, which will likely mean we have to go back to the ballot box and take mapping out of the hands of politicians because politicians will always put themselves first rather than the voters,” said Miller.

The congressional races this November are based on the congressional district map that was rejected as unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court in July.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the North Carolina redistricting case this session.

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