In yet another 4–3 decision, the high court found the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission’s third attempt at drawing the House and Senate maps had once again failed to pass constitutional muster, and ordered a new set of maps to be drawn by March 28.
The seven-member redistricting commission should draft maps in public, convene meetings regularly, and use a different mapmaker in its fourth attempt of drafting the legislative maps, the court’s majority said in its decision, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“The commission should retain an independent map drawer—who answers to all commission members, not only to the Republican legislative leaders—to draft a plan through a transparent process,” the court wrote.
“Resolving this self-created chaos thus depends not on the number of hands on the computer mouse but, rather, on the political will to honor the people’s call to end partisan gerrymandering,” the decision reads.
“Substantial and compelling evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the main goal of the individuals who drafted the second revised plan was to favor the Republican Party and disfavor the Democratic Party,” the majority wrote on Wednesday.
Two justices in the minority called the decision “an exercise of raw political power. Nothing less. Nothing more.”
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justice Michael Donnelly, Justice Melody Stewart, and Justice Jennifer Brunner formed the majority opinion, while Justices Sharon Kennedy and Patrick Fischer dissented. Justice Patrick DeWine, son of Gov. Mike DeWine, also dissented.
Kennedy and DeWine wrote the judgment is “guaranteed to disrupt an impending election and bring Ohio to the brink of a constitutional crisis.”
“Through its actions today, the majority undermines the democratic process, depriving the voters of the constitutional amendment they enacted and leaving in its place only the majority’s policy preferences,” the pair wrote. “In so doing, it threatens the very legitimacy of this court.”
The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to again reject the state’s legislative maps effectively slashes any hope of a primary with both legislative and statewide races on May 3. State election officials were expected to send out the first slate of absentee ballots to voters in the military and overseas later this week.
The process was supposed to be completed last fall well into the 2022 primary season. In 2015, Ohioans overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment that mandated that the committee proportionally distribute districts to reflect Ohio’s 54 percent Republican, 46 percent Democratic split as part of an effort to avoid partisan favoritism in nationwide elections.
The map-making process is something states are required to undertake once per decade to reflect population changes from the U.S. Census.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.