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Republicans on commission seek dismissal of congressional map lawsuit

The Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by three black Youngstown residents seeking to invalidate the primary election results of the 6th Congressional District and districts that border it.

The Youngstown group also contends the state’s U.S. House map violates the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution. The group is asking the court to grant a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and for a special master to be appointed to control the Ohio redistricting process. The group also wants the court to request the chief judge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals create a three-member panel for the case.

In response, Julie M. Pfeiffer, assistant chief of the Ohio attorney general’s constitutional office who’s representing the five Republican commission members being sued, wrote “the case must be dismissed because all of plaintiffs’ claims fail on the merits.”

She added the “plaintiffs have not established they will suffer irreparable harm without an injunction. In fact, plaintiffs’ request for relief — to deny the primary winners of congressional districts their certificates of nomination — would cause substantial harm to others and it contravenes the public interest.”

Pfeiffer wrote: “To describe such an injunction as ‘havoc wreaking’ would not be hyperbolic here. Allowing an election to occur then enjoining the winners from proceeding on to the general election would cause significant voter confusion, it would cripple Ohioans’ trust and confidence in their election and it would be astoundingly unfair — not just to Ohio voters but to the congressional candidates who have spent effort, time and resource in campaigning for a spot on the primary ticket. The requested injunction also lacks all clarity in scope and duration. Even if this court could issue the injunction, it shouldn’t because the election has already occurred and restraint is required.”

Pfeiffer wrote the plaintiffs “have no likelihood of success on their claims.”

The response was filed on behalf of the five Republican members of the redistricting commission who voted March 2 in favor of a new congressional map. Those members are Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman.

The plaintiffs in this case are the Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, senior pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown and chairman of the Community Mobilization Committee; Helen Youngblood, a community activist and former labor leader who is chairwoman of the Mahoning Valley 1619 Project; and the Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II, lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.

Percy Squire is their attorney. He was involved in the successful 1991 lawsuit to create a Youngstown-focused state House district to give African Americans an opportunity to hold that seat.

DISTRICT DISPUTE

The lawsuit from the three Youngstown residents states the congressional redistricting plan “dilutes black voter strength by separating Mahoning and Trumbull counties and by submerging Mahoning (County) black voters into a racially polarized voting district 165 miles long comprised of 10 counties, which results in the political processes leading to election of representatives of choice not being equally open to plaintiffs” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The group is proposing a congressional district of Mahoning and Trumbull counties along with “more racially diverse adjacent Stark, Summit or Cuyahoga counties.”

In its initial lawsuit filed in December, the group objected to a congressional district that put Mahoning and Trumbull together with eight southern counties, saying it “will result in illegal and unconstitutional dilution of the black vote” in Youngstown. State legislative Republicans had approved that map.

Those districts later were changed March 2 by the redistricting commission after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional. Mahoning was kept in the new 6th District with largely those same southern counties in the first map. Trumbull was put in a new 14th District with counties to its north and west.

The Youngstown group lawsuit seeks to invalidate the results of the May 3 primary in the 6th Congressional District and the three districts, including the 14th, that touch it.

Pfeiffer wrote because all 15 congressional districts in the state “fit together like puzzle pieces,” it “is no far stretch to see where all 15 districts would be impacted by a change in just one.”

The Ohio Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the constitutionality of the second congressional map, but the primary took place May 3.

LaRose ordered the map be used for the May 3 primary because he considers it valid unless a court decides otherwise.

When the group initially filed the lawsuit last December, the commission hadn’t voted on a congressional map.

The group voluntarily had the case in the Northern District dismissed March 22.

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