Ohio NAACP, Lawmakers, Advocates Challenge Constitutionality of ‘Stand Your Ground’ Measure, Which Was Passed By Inserting It Into Unrelated Legislation – Legislature Broke Rules Designed To Protect Democratic Process
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Civil Rights Lawsuit Brought by Everytown Law in Ohio State Court on Behalf of the State Conference of NAACP, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, Rep. Stephanie Howse, and Sen. Cecil Thomas Complaint: ‘This Is A Case About Bypassing the Democratic Process, Silencing the Voices of Those Most Directly Affected by Controversial Legislation, and Turning a Blind Eye to a Community’s Well-Founded Fears About the Public Safety Consequences of Rewriting Ohio’s Self-Defense Laws’
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State Conference of the NAACP, State Senator Cecil Thomas, State Representative Stephanie Howse and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative today filed a first-of-its-kind state constitutional challenge to “Stand Your Ground” legislation passed during the lame duck legislative session, saying the measure’s backers violated the Ohio Constitution by adding the measure to an unrelated bill and passing the package only an hour later without providing legally mandated opportunities for public notice and debate. Everytown Law, the largest team of litigators working full-time on advancing gun safety in the courts, is representing the plaintiffs along with the Ohio firm Bloomekatz Law, LLC.
The plaintiffs and legal team will be discussing the lawsuit in an 11 a.m. press conference call this morning. To dial in, please register in advance here.
As the suit notes, the Ohio legislature had previously considered similar measures, which had generated widespread opposition. “This is a case about bypassing the democratic process, silencing the voices of those most directly affected by controversial legislation, and turning a blind eye to a community’s well-founded fears about the public safety consequences of rewriting Ohio’s self-defense laws,” the complaint states.“The public understands what’s at stake when it comes to so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, and no community more than Black Ohioans,” said NAACP Ohio State Conference President Tom Roberts. “Public opposition repeatedly prevented this policy from becoming law, and it was only when they shut the public out of the process that this policy’s backers managed to enact it. Every day it’s left intact, this dangerous law is a reminder of the need to protect our democratic process from those who will break the rules to get their desired result.”
“Amid opposition from law enforcement leaders and Ohioans across the state, this dangerous policy repeatedly failed to draw enough support to become law,” said Ohio Sen. Cecil Thomas. “Rather than trying again through the normal legislative process, its backers looked for a side door. We refuse to accept this illegal shortcut around the democratic process.”
“Our laws protecting the democratic process exist for good reason, and we’ll use all the tools at our disposal to hold accountable those who violate them,” said Ohio Rep. Stephanie Howse. “Given the well-founded concerns Ohioans have about this policy, it’s no surprise that its backers could only pass it when they shut the public out of the process. This lawsuit is about making clear that’s unacceptable.”
“The public deserves a transparent legislative process, and that includes the opportunity to raise the kinds of concerns we’ve heard from Ohioans for years about so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws,” said Pastor Michael Harrison, Board President Ohio Organizing Collaborative. “If you’re sneaking legislation into an unrelated bill and breaking the rules to pass it without debate, that’s a red flag that the public won’t like what’s in there. The passage of this deadly policy through illegal legislative maneuvering was a disgrace, and if allowed to stand, it would have serious consequences for both public safety and legislative transparency in Ohio.”
“The groups and lawmakers filing this challenge represent communities that stand to be disproportionately affected by this dangerous new law, and under Ohio’s constitution, they had every right to raise their well-founded concerns through the legislative process,” said Len Hong Kamdang, director of litigation strategy and trials at Everytown for Gun Safety. “Instead, a number of lawmakers added this controversial measure to an unrelated bill deep into the night at the end of the session. Our clients are asking the court to make clear there are no shortcuts around the democratic process – especially on an issue with such clearly high stakes for the Ohioans they represent.”
“Time and again the Ohio Courts have stepped in when the Legislature’s actions violate the Ohio Constitution,” said Rachel Bloomekatz, Principal, Bloomekatz Law, LLC. “They must do so again here to protect both the democratic process and the rights of our Black neighbors.”
Filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, the lawsuit asks the court to strike down the “Stand Your Ground” provisions enacted in January as part of amended Senate Bill 175. It alleges that the bill’s backers violated two requirements of the Ohio constitution:
- the three-considerations rule, Ohio Const. Art. II, § 15(C), which requires that all bills be debated and considered three times by both the House and the Senate
- the one-subject rule, Ohio Const. Art. II, § 15(D), which requires that bills passed by the legislature have only one uniting purpose.
The three-considerations and one-subject rules safeguard fair participation in the legislative process and protect against the most egregious abuses of that process.
As the complaint alleges, on Dec. 17, 2020, having failed to pass Stand Your Ground legislation for eight years, lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives pasted the previously unpassable provisions of the two pending Stand Your Ground bills—S.B. 383 and H.B. 796—into S.B. 175, a wholly unrelated bill about civil immunity for nonprofit corporations. Despite strong opposition in the legislative chamber, the House of Representatives approved the new bill by a vote of 52 to 31 in only an hour. The Ohio Senate approved the measure the next day, and the legislation was signed into law in January.
The lawsuit describes how, prior to the passage of S.B. 175, the Stand Your Ground bills S.B. 383 and H.B. 796 drew opposition from the NAACP and Ohioans across the state. More than one hundred witnesses gave written testimony opposing H.B. 796; only four witnesses and one interested party supported H.B. 796 in written testimony. More information about Stand Your Ground laws is available here.
Plaintiff Ohio NAACP alleges the Stand Your Ground law impacts its organization because such laws are applied in a racially biased manner and because Black Americans, including its members, suffer from the law’s disparate impact. According to the complaint, the organization opposes the new law to avoid the loss of Black Ohioans’ lives and to prevent and avoid the fear and intimidation that the Stand Your Ground law engenders in many Black Ohioans. Plaintiff Ohio Organizing Collaborative alleges that the new Stand Your Ground law inhibits participation in the democratic process by making its volunteers fearful to engage in its programming, including rallies and canvassing work. Plaintiffs Howse and Thomas allege that breaking the rules to pass controversial legislation undermines their ability to fulfill their duties as legislators, and ignores the well founded fears of their constituents.
The Everytown Law attorneys handling the case are Len Kamdang, Aaron Esty, Krystan Hitchcock, and Nina Sudarsan.