Redistricting review: Sixth Circuit rules Ohio has standing to sue Census Bureau over delayed data

On May 18, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Ohio has standing to sue Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo over the U.S. Census Bureau’s plan to release redistricting data to the states by September 30 instead of the April 1 deadline set forth in federal statutes.

The Sixth Circuit found that Ohio meets all three requirements for standing to bring a lawsuit: “First, Ohio suffered (and continues to suffer) an informational injury because the Secretary failed to deliver Ohio’s data as the Census Act requires. Second, the injury is traceable to the Secretary because Ohio’s informational injury is the direct result of the Secretary’s failure to produce the required data. And third, Ohio’s injury is redressable.” 

The panel unanimously sent the case back to the district court for further consideration. The three judges on the panel were Martha Daughtrey (a Bill Clinton (D) appointee), David McKeague (a George W. Bush (R) appointee), and Amul Thapar (a Donald Trump (R) appointee). 

The state filed its lawsuit (Ohio v. Coggins) against the Census Bureau in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on Feb. 25. Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers said, “The unavailability of decennial census data irreparably harms the State: the Ohio Constitution requires the State to use decennial census data during redistricting if the data is available, and allows the use of alternative data sources only as a second-best option. By blocking the State from conducting redistricting using decennial census data, the Census Bureau’s decision prevents the State from conducting redistricting in the constitutionally preferred manner.” 

The state asked that the court “issue an injunction either prohibiting the defendants from delaying the release of Ohio’s redistricting data beyond March 31, or else requiring the defendants to provide the State with Ohio’s population data at the earliest date this Court deems equitable.”

Judge Thomas Rose, a George W. Bush (R) appointee, dismissed the lawsuit on March 24, 2021, writing, “The Court will therefore reject Ohio’s request for an order that pretends that the Census Bureau could provide census-based redistricting data by March 31. The Court cannot ‘order a party to jump higher, run faster, or lift more than she is physically capable.’” The next day, the state appealed Rose’s decision to the Sixth Circuit, which heard oral argument on May 12. 

A similar lawsuit is pending in Alabama.

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