COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio Supreme Court has declared a congressional district map unconstitutional, ordering state lawmakers to return to the drawing board.
In a 4-3 decision, the Court majority invalidated a second proposed map outlining Ohio’s 15 U.S. House districts on Monday — used by voters in the May primary election — finding it “unduly favors” the Republican Party and violates the Ohio Constitution’s partisan gerrymandering prohibitions, according to a news release from the Court.
“As a result, districts that would otherwise be strongly Democratic-leaning are now competitive or Republican-leaning districts,” the opinion stated.
Drawn by the Republican-led Ohio Redistricting Commission, the map was found to be similar to the plan passed by the legislature and deemed unconstitutional by the Court in January, the release said. But because the Ohio General Assembly failed to pass a new plan within 30 days, the seven-member commission was required to adopt a new map, which they approved on March 2.
The Court argued that the adopted map includes five Democratic-leaning districts and 10 Republican-leaning districts. Three of the five Democratic-leaning districts “have such close margins” that the Court described them as “toss-up” districts.
“The Court found that the new map ‘packed’ Democrats into three congressional districts that heavily favor a Democratic candidate,” the release said. “By doing so, the map dilutes the strength of Democratic voters outside of those districts, leading to 12 districts that heavily favor Republicans.”
The Court noted that the map also violated the neutral redistricting criteria, which aimed to combat partisan gerrymandering, that voters added to the Ohio Constitution in 2018.
The now-unconstitutional map, which the Court found packed Democratic voters into the three largest metropolitan areas in Ohio, will again be used in November to vote for members of Congress.
The majority opinion, signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner, ordered state legislators to submit a new map within 30 days to be used in the 2024 congressional elections, the release said.
If the Ohio General Assembly fails to meet the 30-day deadline, the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission will have 30 days to adopt a congressional plan.
Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters Ohio, a plaintiff in the state’s redistricting lawsuits, said she is pleased that the Court once again upheld the state’s constitution and the ability of Ohio voters to have fair and meaningful elections.
“The Ohio General Assembly and the Ohio Redistricting Commission need to stop playing games,” Miller said. “In 2018 nearly 75% of voters approved reforms for congressional mapping, and it’s high time that they put voters first rather than their own political interests.”
Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick L. Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine dissented from the Court majority, arguing the congressional district plan maximized competitive districts and did not give one party an unfair advantage.
“[T]he outcome of these cases today demonstrates that the majority has once again assumed an oversized role in the process of drawing a congressional-district map by perpetuating its own standard of what constitutes ‘unduly favoring’ a political party,” the dissent wrote.
Dissenting justices argued the Court is “not an equal partner” with the state legislature nor the commission when it comes to redistricting matters. It is not up to the court, the justices added, to determine how to draw a congressional district map.
For House Minority Leader Allison Russo, one of two Democrats who sits on the redistricting commission, the Court’s decision brings justice for Ohio residents who overwhelmingly voted for “fair maps and responsive, accountable government.”
“Unaccountable politicians lead to extreme policies that do not reflect the will of Ohioans, such as forcing a 10-year old child to give birth,” Russo said in a statement. “We must demand the democratic self-government that this country was founded on and has strived to achieve ever since.”
Spokespeople for Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Gov. Mike DeWine and Senate Majority Leader Matt Huffman, all of whom are current or former Republican members of the redistricting commission, said their offices are reviewing the Court’s opinion.
Read the Court’s full opinion below: