Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Gerrymandered Legislative Maps A Second Time

WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, OHIO, UNITED STATES - 2021/08/03: Man moves to get his identity confirmed, so that he can receive a ballot at the Warrensville Heights Recreation Center. Voters came out to the polls for a speci... WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, OHIO, UNITED STATES - 2021/08/03: Man moves to get his identity confirmed, so that he can receive a ballot at the Warrensville Heights Recreation Center. Voters came out to the polls for a special election in Ohio's 11th district. The two main leading candidates for this House of Representatives seat are two Democrats, Nina Turner, a progressive candidate, and Shontel Brown, who represents the traditional Democratic establishment. (Photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) MORE LESS

Ohio’s Supreme Court has, for the second time this year, rejected Republican-drawn redistricting maps, telling the GOP officials on a mapmaking committee for a second time to come up with state legislative districts that don’t disproportionately favor their own party. 

The court’s Republican chief justice, Maureen O’Connor, again provided the swing vote, siding with the court’s Democrats to reject the legislative maps. 

O’Connor was the swing vote last month as well, siding with Democrats in determining that the state’s Republican-controlled redistricting commission had violated a constitutional amendment against partisan gerrymandering. 

“Yet the commission did not adopt an entirely new plan,” noted the court’s 29-page majority opinion Monday. 

Instead, after that first rejection, the redistricting commission shifted a handful of districts from Republican-leaning to slim Democratic majorities — and claimed among other things that anything less than a 57-42 GOP majority in the state’s House of Representatives was impossible. 

“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 majority opinion read.

Later, the opinion cited a chart from Kosuke Imai, an expert witness for the petitioners in the lawsuit, showing that the Democratic-leaning districts in the proposed state House map were much closer to even toss-ups than the Republican-leaning districts. The court said labeling districts with between 50 and 51% Democratic vote share as “Democratic-leaning” was “absurd on its face.” 

Ohio Supreme Court

The court had already invalidated the map that the GOP-controlled commission used as a starting point, the majority noted.

“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,” the opinion read. 

The decision means that the GOP-controlled redistricting commission must try once again to draw maps that pass constitutional muster, meaning districts that more closely reflect the politics of Ohio’s voters — a roughly 54-46 GOP advantage across recent statewide elections — rather than a Republican gerrymandering wish list. 

“We are convinced that a more closely proportional plan could have been achieved,” the court said near the end of its majority opinion, adding, “The commission set its compass wrong, and it wound up in the wrong place.” 

“The revised plan does not attempt to closely correspond to that constitutionally defined ratio. Our instruction to the commission is – simply – to comply with the Constitution,” the opinion said.

The court ordered the commission to come up with new maps by Feb. 17. Separately, the court ruled in mid-January that the Republican legislature’s U.S. congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, giving the legislature 30 days to submit a new map. 

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