Advocacy update March 15, 2022

Advocacy update March 15, 2022

Advocacy update March 15, 2022 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection

Congress passes Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill

By an unanimous vote, the US Senate passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which defines lynching, makes it a federal hate crime and establishes a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. Anti-lynching legislation was first introduced in Congress in 1900, but had never made it into law.  The Equal Justice Initiative has documented over 4,000 lynchings between 1877 and 1950. Spearheaded in the House by Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, the bill’s Senate sponsors include Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul had blocked an earlier anti-lynching bill in 2020. The bill now goes to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

Ohio’s Redistricting:  the suspense continues!

The epic battle between the Ohio Redistricting Commission and fair districts advocates is starting to feel like a serialized melodrama in a Victorian magazine.  The Ohio Supreme Court has found three sets of maps unconstitutional, and is now reviewing the third state legislative map and the second Congressional map passed by a party line votes February 24 and March 2. Fair districts groups have challenged both for disproportionately favoring the majority party. This is the standard on which the Ohio Supreme Court, in 4-3 decisions, ruled the previous maps unconstitutional under the amendments passed by over 70% of Ohio voters in 2015 and 2018.

Senate President Matt Huffman argued that those constitutional standards don’t apply at this stage because of the need to hold a primary on May 3 (a date the Legislature has the power to change). Fair districts advocates ask Ohioans to call or write your state senator and representative to urge them to vote to delay the primary until the maps are finalized.  You can easily contact your reps through the link “Who Represents Me” on the Ohio Legislature home page.

The latest Ohio Congressional map, now under review by the state Supreme Court.

Gerrymandering is a way of ensuring that some votes count more than others, to preserve the power whatever party is in the majority. Gerrymandering erodes the fundamental representational fairness principal of our democracy. In Ohio, the party in power is using the artificial emergency of a primary election date to justify evading the constitutional requirement passed by Ohio voters to draw districts that represent Ohio voters’ political views.  The probable results of all the maps passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on party-line votes is a veto-proof supermajority in the Legislature, and at most a third of our Congressional delegation going to the minority party, which has won 46% of the votes in statewide elections over the past decade.

Because Ohio votes in statewide elections split 54-46% between Republican and Democratic candidates over the past decade, all of the citizen-proposed maps which the Redistricting Commission has ignored are drawn to produce a Republican majority of at least 54% in the Legislature and Congressional delegation. That’s the standard now set in Ohio’s constitution: mirroring the last ten years’ voting patterns.

Because Congress has failed to pass national standards to prevent partisan gerrymandering (the latest bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, is stalled in the Senate), a kind of Wild West situation is unfolding across the nation, depending on state laws defining what groups have the power to draw new maps. Some have bipartisan commissions. In others legislatures can draw the maps. The authority of state supreme courts varies widely. In Ohio, we’re on uncharted ground: will the standoff between our Supreme Court and the Republican leadership continue?  Who can mandate a map that meets the standards set by Ohio voters?

The US Supreme Court has added to the uncertainty in several rulings so far this year, upholding state supreme court decisions that threw out gerrymandered maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. But in February, in a 5-4 emergency ruling, the US Supreme Court used Alabama’s May 24 primary date as justification for invalidating a federal panel’s ruling that the state’s new Congressional map, which would produce only one majority Black district out of six in a state whose population is 25% Black, violates the Civil Rights Act.

The Justices ruled that the state could use the gerrymandered map in this year’s election while the federal case over its legality continues to work through the appeals process.  The Guardian reports that Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion was that requiring Alabama to redraw its district then – three months before the primary –  “would result in confusion for voters and hardship for the state as it prepared for elections this year. “

The only way I can make sense of these patterns is that the Supreme Court seems to give more weight to state laws and constitutions than to the civil rights protections of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the third set of state district maps, and has ordered the Redistricting Commission to respond to the objections to the latest Congressional map by March 15 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s county election officials are faced with the impossible task of planning an election for districts which are still not confirmed. Voter rolls can’t be finalized and signatures on candidate petitions verified. Instead of changing the primary date, the Ohio Legislature has appropriated more money for elections, delayed the deadline for sending ballots to military and overseas voters and extended the time for them to be returned to 20 days after Election Day.

Governor signs permit-less conceal-carry bill into law

Despite an outpouring of testimony, calls, emails, and letters to the editor opposing this bill,  the Ohio Legislature passed SB 215 on March 2 and Governor DeWine signed it into law March 14.  This law is lamented as a threat to public safety by  police leaders including Hamilton County Sheriff Charlaine McDuffy. “Researchers with the American Journal for Public Health found states with permitless carry laws were associated with an 11% increase in handgun homicide rates. The National Bureau of Economic Researchers found states experienced about a 14% higher rate of violent crime after adopting a new concealed carry permitting system similar to Ohio’s current one,” reported the Ohio Capital Journal on March 3.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming, and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com