Ohio SC: Redistricting plan subject to referendum

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 17, 2011, 12:38pm

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) - The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday ordered state officials to treat a new state redistricting plan as subject to referendum.

According to the Court's per curium opinion, it granted Ohioans for Fair Districts and its members a writ to compel Secretary of State Jon Husted to treat sections 1 and 2 of House Bill 319 as subject to referendum, to accept the submission of the group's referendum-petition summary and "to discharge the duties of his office" as provided by Article II of the Ohio Constitution.

HB 319 establishes new congressional districts for the state based on the 2010 decennial census.

The Court's decision now means the group can continue its efforts to repeal the new map.

Senate Republicans, who played a significant role in the map's redrawing, had tried to make the law effective immediately so as not to face any effort for a direct vote.

But the Court, in its three-page opinion, said appropriations in the bill didn't meet the requirements to shield it from such a referendum.

"Under Section 1c, Article II, no law or section of any law 'passed by the general assembly shall go into effect until 90 days after it shall have been filed by the governor in the office of the secretary of state, except as herein provided.' Section 1d, Article II sets forth the exceptions to the general rule, with the exception claimed by respondents here being the one for 'appropriations for the current expenses of the state government and state institutions,'" the justices wrote.

The Court said the challenged provisions of HB 319 are not appropriations for current expenses of the state government and state institutions, and the inclusions of the appropriation "does not alter this result."

In coming to its decision, the Court pointed to its previous decision in State ex rel. Taft v. Franklin Cty. Court of Common Pleas.

It said it merely held in the 1998 ruling that certain provisions of legislation imposing taxes if approved by a majority of electors voting in a special election were not subject to referendum although they did not appropriate money, because implementation of the sections -- for a statewide election on the proposed taxes -- depended upon the appropriation of money for the election in a separate section of the same act.

"In effect, the proposed taxes were already subject to a referendum in the form of the special election, and the appropriation of current expenses for the election was to implement that one-time, special election," the Court explained.

"The provisions in Taft were consequently temporary measures that did not effect a change in permanent law. That is manifestly not the situation here, where the reapportionment sections of HB 319 change Ohio law and are not already subject to voter approval."

Ohio's isn't the only state Supreme Court recently faced with challenges to redistricting.

Last week, a West Virginia lawyer filed a mandamus petition with the state Supreme Court of Appeals, saying a new House of Delegates redistricting plan violates the state constitution.

More suits over the new law are expected to filed in the coming weeks.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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