Federal panel in Ohio punts dispute over congressional map


By JULIE CARR SMYTH - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judicial panel declined Tuesday to grant an order temporarily blocking certification of 2022 U.S. House races that have gone forward in Ohio under a disputed congressional map.

Ruling on largely technical grounds, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio advised a group of Black voters from Youngstown claiming to be disenfranchised by the map that their issue must be litigated separately.

The group, known as the Simon parties, had sought the order against the congressional map as a side party in a lawsuit involving Ohio’s unresolved maps of state legislative districts.

But judges said adding congressional maps to that dispute would be “doubling the scope and complexity” of the case.

“The court did not contemplate sweeping congressional redistricting, which is a wholly distinct process, into this lawsuit,” the judges wrote. “Though both varieties of redistricting involve the (Ohio Redistricting) Commission, they are separate tasks, utilizing independent standards and resulting in different district boundaries for General Assembly members versus Congressmembers.”

The panel urged the Simon parties to return to the Northern District of Ohio, where it had filed — and then dropped — an earlier lawsuit, to make its case against the U.S. House map. The voter group must limit its arguments in the case involving legislative maps only to disenfranchisement they allege under those maps, judges said.

While U.S. House races have gone forward in Ohio, the state’s legislative races — to determine state representatives and senators — are on hold. The federal court has said it will intervene after April 20 if the state fails to come to some resolution.

In a series of divided votes, the redistricting commission has passed four different sets of legislative maps. The first three were invalidated by the Ohio Supreme Court as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders unduly favoring Republicans, and a fourth set — hardly different from the third — is now before the court.

As the public awaits their ruling on the fourth set of maps, justices also are weighing arguments on the extraordinary question of whether commissioners should be held in contempt of its orders to pass maps that fairly reflected the state’s 54% Republican-46% Democratic partisan breakdown.

By JULIE CARR SMYTH

Associated Press