Ohio lawmakers appeal map flap to US Supreme Court

COLUMBUS — Republican state lawmakers involved in Ohio’s political map-making process appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, seeking a review of an Ohio Supreme Court decision finding the state’s latest round of congressional maps unconstitutional.

The move by Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and a state senator and representative who also sit on the Ohio Redistricting Commission was foreshadowed when the group flouted an August deadline they’d been given by the Ohio Supreme Court to redraw the boundaries.

In a statement, the GOP lawmakers called the high court’s July 17 decision rejecting a second proposed congressional map as gerrymandered to GOP partisan advantage “fundamentally flawed.” Their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asserts the ruling encroached on their legislative authority “in multiple ways.”

“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,” they said.

The head of one of the groups that brought suit against the maps criticized the appeal.

“This is more hypocrisy and theater from the leaders of the Ohio General Assembly, because this fringe legal theory they’re quoting doesn’t even apply in this scenario,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “The Ohio General Assembly exercised its authority when it helped develop the constitutional amendment that changed mapping processes and gave the Ohio Supreme Court the authority to strike down district maps.”

Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, has advanced the legal theory behind the appeal. In an open memo this summer, he asserted lawmakers could ignore the deadline set by state-level justices and move on to the federal court because the case is a matter of federal interest. He said they had 90 days to do so, which falls on Monday.

He did not address why that approach was not taken back in January, the first time the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a congressional map. By waiting, Cupp’s timeline carries a mapmaking process that was supposed to conclude in 2021 close to the retirement date of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, the seven-member court’s swing vote.

A 4-3 majority has delivered Democratic and voting-rights groups victories over five Statehouse maps and two U.S. House maps. Nationwide, these maps are required to be redrawn to reflect population changes in the 2020 Census.

With litigation still pending, the state’s 2022 legislative and congressional primaries went forward under those same invalidated maps. The latest congressional map delivered two-thirds of Ohio’s 16 seats to Republicans, although the state’s party breakdown over the past 10 years was roughly 54% Republican, 46% Democrat.

This is Ohio’s first time implementing new mapmaking systems approved by voters as constitutional amendments, and what happens when mapmakers fail to comply with court orders has been a matter of debate. So far, justices have stopped short of holding them in contempt.