State Supreme Court Tosses Ohio’s Legislative District Maps for Second Time

by J.D. Davidson


The Ohio Supreme Court again sided with the League of Women Voters and tossed out new state legislative district maps for a second time, saying Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission disregarded its initial ruling.

The court ruled, 4-3, the commission’s second attempt that preserved Republican majorities was unconstitutional and ordered the commission to adopt a new plan, saying if the commission would have used its time more wisely and been committed to working together to find a map that met court guidelines, it could have been accomplished.

“As in the original plan that this court invalidated, there is also evidence that it was possible for the commission – had it committed to attempting a proportional map, worked collaboratively toward that end, and used its allotted time efficiently – to draw a map that achieved or closely achieved the 54 to 46 percent partisan share that we identified in League of Women Voters of Ohio,” the majority opinion reads.

The court ordered the commission to pass and file a new plan with Secretary of State Frank LaRose by Feb. 17 and file a copy with the court by Feb. 18. The court retained jurisdiction to review the third set of maps.

“The people have been vindicated once again with this decision. I am especially grateful to the Ohioans who worked to enshrine fair districts in our constitution,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, R-Upper Arlington, said. “This decision affirms that it is possible to draw fair, constitutional maps that closely reflect the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans. I am committed to delivering fair maps to the voters and hope Republican Commission members will finally work in good faith to produce maps that meet these constitutional requirements.”

The commission’s first maps favored the GOP by 62% in the House and nearly 70% in the Senate. The second set of maps showed 58.3% Republican leaning legislative districts, above the court-ordered 54%.

The commission includes Gov. Mike DeWine; Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima; Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron; House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima; State Auditor Keith Faber; LaRose and Russo.

The ruling comes after candidates have filed for races in the state’s upcoming May 3 primary. The commission had asked the court to stay its decision, keeping the maps in place through the November general election and then make a decision. The court, however, denied the request and said the General Assembly could ease concerns.

“The General Assembly established the date of the primary election, and it has the authority to ease the pressure that the commission’s failure to adopt a constitutional redistricting plan has placed on the secretary of state and on county boards of elections by moving the primary election, should that action become necessary,” the opinion reads.

Republicans, though, believe the decision creates election chaos.

“Ohio’s voters, candidates and election system now face a constitutional crisis and election system chaos. Candidates have no specific direction regarding the districts for their campaigns and voters face the uncertainty of additional court ordered gerrymandering,” John Fortney, director of communications for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus said.

Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined the court’s three Democrats in the majority. O’Connor, who is 70 years old, must leave the court at the end of this calendar year because of age limits.

In its majority opinion, the court took issue with the commission basing its new maps on the previous maps that were declared invalid.

“It is clear that the map drawers and the commission knew that their approach – starting with the invalidated map and switching competitive Republican-leaning districts to competitive Democratic-leaning districts – would have the dual effect of eliminating weak Republican districts and creating weak Democratic districts,” the opinion reads. “The commission nevertheless adopted the revised map using that process – on a party-line vote.

“The commission’s choice to nevertheless start with that plan and change it as little as possible is tantamount to an intent to preserve as much partisan favoritism as could be salvaged from the invalidated plan. It is also clear that the commission rejected, without explanation, easy and obvious changes that would have made the revised map more proportional.”

In a minority opinion, Republican Justices Pat DeWine and Sharon Kennedy were critical of the ruling. DeWine is the governor’s son.

“It is apparent that in disregard of constitutional standards, four members of this court have now commandeered the redistricting process and that they will continue to reject any General Assembly-district plan until they get the plan they want,” the two wrote. “It would simplify matters if the commission would just provide the majority with the map-drawing software, Maptitude, so that they can draw the map themselves. At this point, one must wonder which seven-member body is the true redistricting commission – the constitutionally named officers or this court?”

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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 Supreme Court” by Sixflashphoto CC BY-SA 4.0.




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