A three-judge federal court panel Thursday rejected the state's request for a stay of an order to draw a new congressional map by June 14 to replace the unconstitutional districts crafted by ruling Republicans and in use since 2012.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, had asked the court to stay its order by Friday, arguing the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by June 30 on gerrymandering cases that could uphold Ohio's map as legal or set out new standards that could make efforts to quickly redesign the 2012 map moot.
The judges — two Democrats and one Republican — on U.S. District Court in Cincinnati were unpersuaded.
"No new arguments persuade the court that a stay is now warranted," the judges wrote, saying the state's "attempt to relitigate the merits of the case in these motions and avoid the court’s finding and conclusion that the current map is unconstitutional and has thus harmed voters."
Yost called the ruling "expected," adding in a statement, "The state is entitled to appellate review of the invented legal standard in the trial court’s decision and will ask the Supreme Court to stay the decision pending its ruling on similar cases already before it.”
In a tweet, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said: "As expected, the district court denied the state’s motion to stay. It is impossible to know how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule, but our decisive victory in the trial court adds significantly to the nationwide momentum for new, fair maps."
The ACLU argued against a stay in a filing Wednesday evening, saying state officials are mounting a "continuing effort to run out the clock" in hopes of conducting the 2020 elections for U.S. House seats under an unconstitutional map drawn to ensure Republican gerrymandering.
"Their strategy is clear. They aim to obtain through the passage of time what they cannot achieve on the merits: yet another election held under an unconstitutional map," the ACLU wrote.
"Notwithstanding the fact that the Legislature intentionally enacted an unconstitutional set of congressional districts, this court extended the legislature the courtesy of an opportunity to remedy its misdeeds," the filing said.
State officials and other intervenors, including the dozen Republicans who hold 12 of Ohio's 16 seats in the U.S. House, "now seek to take advantage of that courtesy and use it as an opportunity to foment additional delay."
The federal judges ruled on May 3 that Ohio Republicans drew "bizarre" district lines in many cases to illegally pack Republicans into certain districts to benefit GOP candidates and incumbents while packing Democrats into certain urban districts to ensure Democrats had few competitive districts in which to run.