No Ohio redistricting decision before election

JoANNE VIVIANO Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Friday that it won't consider a lawsuit challenging new state House and Senate districts before this year's elections because Democrats behind the claim unreasonably delayed its filing.

The court on Friday said Democrats filed the suit 96 days after the districts were approved by the Apportionment Board, a group of top-ranking state officials tasked with redrawing the boundaries.

"They do not have a legitimate excuse for much of this prolonged delay, they knew or should have known of the board's apportionment plan and its alleged constitutional defects near the time it was approved by the board in late September," the court writes. It says the delay has caused difficulty for boards of elections, candidates and voters relying on the new plan for Ohio's "imminent" 2012 elections, which start with the primary on March 6.

The court says it will allow the suit to continue in respect to the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections that will be affected by the new maps.

The state redraws legislative and congressional districts every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. census, and Republicans hold a 4-1 majority on the current Apportionment Board. Democrats filed suit on behalf of three dozen voters in January, saying the lines were gerrymandered to favor the GOP and violated provisions of the state constitution that prohibit political maps from unnecessarily splitting communities between districts.

Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for House Republicans, said the court's decision underscores that Democrats had an ulterior motive with the filing.

"Today's ruling ... shows that the real goal of the Democrats was not to challenge the constitutionality of the new congressional map -- it is to throw the 2012 elections into legal chaos in the hopes that they will benefit," he said.

But Democratic legislative leaders said they were "thrilled" that the court will hear arguments for future elections. They have said the new boundaries split cities, counties, and other community units more than 250 times.

"Of course we would have liked to have resolved this matter before the 2012 election, but potentially undoing this blatant partisan gerrymander for the reminder of the decade is an extraordinary opportunity for Ohio voters," said a statement issued by Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati and House Minority Leader Armond Budish of Beachwood.

Justice Terrence O'Donnell filed a separate opinion disagreeing with the decision to postpone a decision, calling it "unprecedented in our jurisprudence, unwise, and fraught with problems as precedent for future apportionment challenges."

"The court's obligation is to review these matters expeditiously, and it should do so," he wrote.

The court dismissed a related argument in the lawsuit that claimed the Apportionment Board illegally held closed-door meetings, saying it lacks jurisdiction.

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