Editorial: Republicans blow another redistricting deadline

A recent editorial by the Elyria Chronicle:

What a fine time to be a Republican in Ohio.

The rule of law that lesser mortals are bound to follow apparently don’t apply to the GOP.

If an overwhelming majority of voters decide to amend the Ohio Constitution to limit gerrymandering, you can just ignore them and draw state legislative and congressional district maps that overly favor Republican candidates.

Why, you’re even free to ignore orders from the Ohio Supreme Court requiring you to draw new maps that comport with the state Constitution.

That’s exactly what the GOP-dominated General Assembly did Thursday, when it failed to meet a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court to come up with a new congressional map for the 2024 election. (It was already too late to do anything about the unconstitutionally gerrymandered map Republicans imposed on Ohioans for this year’s election.)

If the legislature didn’t act by Thursday, the responsibility for drawing a new congressional map with 15 districts was supposed to shift to the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission. Its members would have an additional 30 days to draw the new map.

We doubt the commission’s Republican members intend to meet their deadline either, based on a letter Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, sent to his caucus on Wednesday.

He insisted that the deadlines were a “myth” peddled by “out-of-state activists.”

“The Ohio Constitutional timeline for the General Assembly to enact a new congressional map does not commence until all appeals are final,” Cupp wrote.

He went on to declare that Republicans had 90 days from the state Supreme Court’s order, issued July 19, to appeal. If that’s true, state lawmakers have until Oct. 17 to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. If they don’t, it would mean the actual deadline to draw a new congressional map isn’t until 30 days later, Cupp argued.

Not everyone is buying that argument, including Freda Levenson, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

The order to draw a new congressional map deals with Ohio law and can’t be appealed in federal court, she told the Ohio Capital Journal.

However, the Republican timeline conveniently sets the deadline to draw a new map after the November general election. The results of the state Supreme Court races will help Republicans gauge whether they can gerrymander at will or must follow the will of the voters.

Why is that? Well, the biggest obstacle to the GOP’s gerrymandering dreams is Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who will retire at the end of the year because of age limits on holding judicial office in Ohio. O’Connor has joined with the seven-member court’s three Democrats to insist that redistricting be done in accordance with the state Constitution.

If GOP candidates win all three Supreme Court seats up for election this year, Republicans seem convinced that they won’t have to worry about the court’s minority Democrats.

Are Republicans going to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court?

It’s a hard maybe.

A spokesperson for Cupp told the Capital Journal such an appeal “is a very real option that we have time to thoroughly consider.”

Republicans are reportedly considering arguing the “independent state legislature theory,” which holds that the authority to draw congressional districts belongs to state legislatures alone. Therefore, the theory goes, state courts, independent redistricting commissions, amendments to state constitutions, etc. are meaningless when it comes to redistricting.

That’s probably news to Ohio voters, who were told, including by many Republicans, that they could indeed amend the state Constitution in 2018 to limit gerrymandering. Perhaps the “independent state legislature theory” slipped the GOP’s hive mind during the 2018 election cycle.

Nor did Republicans seek to involve the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, despite the Ohio Supreme Court ruling previous congressional maps unconstitutional.

A similar refusal to follow the will of the voters has played out with state legislative maps, which the Ohio Supreme Court has found unconstitutional four times. A panel of federal judges ordered the state to use a map that had already been found unconstitutional in this year’s elections. The fight over those maps led to Ohio being forced to hold an unprecedented primary this month.

It was a confusing, expensive and low-turnout affair.

Just this week, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to force the Redistricting Commission, which drew the problematic state legislative map, to explain why its members hadn’t followed prior court rulings. That effectively means they won’t be held in contempt of court, despite violating court orders.

Does anyone really imagine that your average citizen could casually ignore a court order?

Must be nice not to have to worry about such pedestrian concerns.

— Elyria Chronicle, August 19, 2022