by J.D. Davidson
Ohio Democrats believe an Ohio Supreme Court decision that tossed out the state’s new Senate and House legislative district maps is an opportunity to create fairer districts, while Gov. Mike DeWine said court challenges were not unexpected.
The court gave the Ohio Redistricting Commission 10 days to redraw maps it said did not comply with a 2015 constitutional amendment that requires an attempt to avoid party favoritism. The League of Women Voters, along with other groups, sued and claimed the maps heavily favored state Republicans.
The decision impacted three other lawsuits, along with the League of Women Voters. The American Civil Liberties Union, CAIR-Ohio and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee each sued. The court will review the new maps.
Justice Melody Steward said in the ruling the maps favored one party and did not meet the standard of the districts meeting the state’s voter breakdown of 54% Republican and 46% Democrat.
Republicans argued throughout the process the maps were fair and competitive.
A spokesperson for Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he was in the process of reviewing the court decision and evaluating the next steps.
The lawsuit did not surprise DeWine, one of the seven members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“Throughout this process, I expected that Ohio’s legislative maps would be litigated and that the Ohio Supreme Court would make a decision on their constitutionality,” DeWine said. “I will work with my fellow Redistricting Commission members on revised maps that are consistent with the Court’s order.”
Democrats applauded the ruling, saying the commission gets another chance at producing fair maps.
“Ohioans spoke not once, but twice, to demand fair maps. Now we have heard from the highest Court. We have another chance to produce fair maps for Ohio, and there is no reason why we can’t adopt fair, 10-year state legislative maps that meet the constitutional requirements Ohio voters have demanded,” House Assistant Minority Leader Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, said. “Having fair maps means that Ohioans will have better representation, stronger communities, and a more functional legislature and state government.”
Alicia Bannon, director of the Judiciary Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs, said the group will ensure the new maps meet the standard.
“The Ohio Supreme Court held the Ohio Redistricting Commission accountable to the constitution,” Bannon said. “The General Assembly maps entrenched a GOP supermajority and flouted clear partisan fairness requirements in the Ohio constitution – abuses that especially impacted Ohio’s Black, Muslim and immigrant communities. The commission is now tasked with drawing replacement maps. We will be watching to ensure that all Ohioans get the fair representation they are due.”
The commission was created in 2018 and consists of DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose; State Auditor Keith Faber; Huffman; Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron; House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima; and former House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron.
The maps were the commission’s first in a process historically reserved for the state Legislature. The group’s first meeting took place in early August and was followed by several meetings around the state, with hours of testimony and several proposed maps from Republicans, Democrats, citizens and groups.
The maps struck down by the court passed the commission on a 5-2 party-line vote, which also meant the maps were good for only four years, rather than the traditional 10.
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J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is a regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Ohio Statehouse” by tlarrow CC BY-SA 2.0.