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Ohio Supreme Court Tosses Republican Drawn Maps for Second Time

February 8, 2022 by Dan McCue
Ohio Supreme Court Tosses Republican Drawn Maps for Second Time
The Ohio Statehouse is shown on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second time in a month, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected state legislative district maps on the grounds that the Republicans in charge of the process created a map that disproportionately favors their candidates.

The ruling handed down Monday night threw the timing of the state primary elections into doubt, with Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission given until Feb. 17 to approve a new map that actually reflects the current makeup of the electorate.

The court majority acknowledged the pressure its ruling would place on election officials, but went on to say the legislature can move the current May 3 primary date if needed.

In the meantime, their main problem with the new map is that it appears to have been drawn using the previously invalidated map as a starting point.

Mapmakers Ray DiRossi and Blake Springhetti, the court majority said, “started with the same plan that we invalidated and then merely adjusted certain districts just enough so that they could nominally be reclassified as ‘Democratic-leaning,’” the majority of the court wrote.

Such an approach, the justices said, would simply result in switching some competitive Republican districts to competitive Dem-leaning districts, which “would have the dual effect of eliminating weak Republican districts and creating weak Democratic districts.”

The resulting map effectively handed Republicans a 57-42 seat advantage in the state House and a 20-13 advantage in the state Senate.

“This was not the process that our decision contemplates, and the commission’s awareness of the partisan effects supports an ‘inference of predominant partisan intent’ similar to the one we found with respect to the original plan,” the majority wrote.

According to the court, Ohio voters are roughly split 54% in favor of the Republicans and 46% favoring the Democrats, and there should, at the very least, be several more truly competitive districts woven into the map.

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

In a dissent, two Republican members of the court, Pat DeWine and Sharon Kennedy, lambasted their fellow justices, accusing them of usurping the mapmaking process and insisting on an outcome that Democrats want.

“In today’s astonishing order, the majority compels the commission to design districts that guarantee Democratic victories. There is a word for the action the majority has ordered the commission to undertake — gerrymandering,” the dissenting justices wrote.

Republican lawmakers in the state insist they haven’t been trying to gerrymander their way to perpetual victory, but instead have found it impossible to draw 45 Democratic districts that also meet other constitutional requirements of redistricting such as preserving the compactness and continuity of districts.

Democrats, according to the dissent, cluster in and around Ohio’s cities and routinely win elections in those communities by wide margins.

Republicans, meanwhile, typically prevail in more rural districts, but win their contests by smaller margins, the dissenting justices said.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said Ohio Republicans “tried and failed to deceive the state’s highest tribunal into thinking that maps with inconsequential revisions and passed on a party-line vote, are maps that could adhere to the court’s previous order and the constitutional reform put in place by the people of Ohio.”

“Their breathtaking arrogance has once again been checked, making it clear that Republican attempts to neuter the judiciary will not be successful. It is past time for the Republican commissioners to draw fair maps as mandated by the court and by the constitution,” Holder said.

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said after the ruling the gerrymandered nature of the new maps was plain for all to see.

“Bottom line, voters will be best served when the maps fairly represent them and are not sliced and diced simply for partisan outcomes,” Miller said. “It’s time for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to finally do their job: make maps that serve the people of Ohio rather than their own shortsighted political interests.”

Ohio Senate GOP spokesman John Fortney said, “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,” he said.

“Third time’s the charm,” the Ohio Democratic Party said in a statement. “The Ohio Supreme Court once again rejected 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.

“Republicans have delayed this process too long already, 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,” the Ohio Democrats said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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