Ohio Supreme Court Rejects State’s Legislative Maps for Second Time, Calls Them ‘Unconstitutional’

Ohio Supreme Court Rejects State’s Legislative Maps for Second Time, Calls Them ‘Unconstitutional’
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in Bexley, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 2020. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)
Katabella Roberts
Updated:

The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday rejected new state legislative maps for a second time and ordered them to be redrawn after deeming them unconstitutional.

According to a ruling (pdf), the court sided with the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which had filed an objection to the Ohio House and Senate maps adopted on Jan. 22 by the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

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 in nationwide elections in an effort to avoid partisan favoritism.

The maps adopted in January would have given Republicans a 57–42 advantage in the House and a 20–13 advantage in the Senate, or 58 percent of overall seats, according to the ruling.

In a 4–3 decision, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justice Michael Donnelly, Justice Melody Stewart, and Justice Jennifer Brunner ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to adopt a new plan and file it with the Ohio secretary of state’s office by Feb. 17 ahead of the 2022 general election.

“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 ruling said.

“While the Constitution does not require exact parity in terms of the vote share of each district, the commission’s adoption of a plan in which the quality of partisan favoritism is monolithically disparate is further evidence of ... a violation,” plaintiffs said.

“Our instruction to the commission is—simply—to comply with the Constitution,” the opinion said.

The decision marks the second time the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected new state legislative maps after previously voting 4–3 to strike down the one submitted on Jan. 12 saying it was unconstitutional.

In a statement, Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Walters praised the court’s decision in rejecting “GOP attempts to gerrymander our state and disenfranchise Ohio voters.”

“The Ohio Supreme Court cannot be more clear: Republicans must produce fair maps that accurately reflect our state, not the Ohio GOP’s political wishlist,” Walters said, while accusing Republicans of delaying the process of bringing forward fair maps.

“It’s past time for them to finally do their jobs and give Ohioans what they deserve: fair representation and a state government that reflects the wishes of Ohio voters, not the wishes of extreme Republicans and the special interests they’re bought by,” Walters said.

In their dissenting opinion, two justices, including Pat DeWine, who is Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s son, and Sharon Kennedy, sharply criticized the decision.

“At this point, one must wonder which seven-member body is the true redistricting commission—the constitutionally named officers or this court?” they wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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