Ohio’s “Stand Your Ground” law challenged as unconstitutional
The Ohio State Conference of the NAACP, State Senator Cecil Thomas, State Representative Stephanie Howse and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative today filed what may be a first-of-its-kind state constitutional challenge to "Stand Your Ground" legislation passed during last December’s lame duck legislative session.
The suit, filed in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, says the law's backers violated the Ohio Constitution by adding the measure to an unrelated bill and passing the package only an hour later without the legally required opportunities for public notice and debate.
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 were designed to safeguard fair participation in the legislative process and protect against egregious abuses of that process.
'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' — from the complaint in NAACP et al. vs. State of Ohio.
The lawsuit notes there has been widespread opposition to the “stand your ground” law whenever the legislature had previously considered similar measures. "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, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "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.”
State Rep. Stephanie Howse, another of the plaintiffs, issued this statement as the suit was being filed: "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."
Howse opposed the General Assembly’s previous failed attempts to pass Stand Your Ground legislation. In 2018, she spoke on the House floor in opposition to House Bill 228, which included Stand Your Ground provisions, noting that “this was the type of legislation that was the legislative justification for the murder of Trayvon Martin.” As she began to recite the demographics of HB 228 supporters’ districts to show that the concerns of black Ohioans were not being taken into account, the House Speaker cut short her remarks.
Substantial evidence exists that ‘stand your ground” laws are a greater threat to black people, especially black males, and most especially large black males because of how they are viewed by many white people. The NAACP’s Roberts, a former state legislator from the Dayton area, said at the press conference following the complaint’s filing, “black men are often perceived as threatening for no reason”. Under “stand your ground” law, prejudice, hatred, perceptions arising from prejudice or hatred “would allow black men to be killed for no justifiable reason”.
"Time and again the Ohio Courts have stepped in when the Legislature's actions violate the Ohio Constitution," said Rachel Bloomekatz, the plaintiffs’ lead local attorney. "They must do so again here to protect both the democratic process and the rights of our black neighbors."
Senate Bill 175 was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine in January and became effective April 6.
The plaintiffs want the Court to rule that the ‘stand your ground provisions” were not lawfully enacted because required Constitutional procedures were bypassed and to declare that the provisions therefore have no effect. If they succeed, it would likely reinstate the "duty to retreat" in Ohio. Republicans, who passed the bill on a party line vote, could be expected try to pass similar legislation again.
The case has been assigned to Judge Stephen L. McIntosh.
The plaintiffs are represented by Everytown Law, reportedly the nation’s largest team of litigators working full-time on advancing gun safety in the courts, to prosecute their case against the State. Rachel Bloomekatz is the lead local attorney working with Everytown.
The State of Ohio is the defendant in the case. The office of Attorney General Dave Yost has until Nov. 4 to decide how to respond on the state’s behalf.