Ohio court strikes down maps

By Ethan Nichols, Staff Writer

The Ohio Supreme Court struck down state legislative and Congressional maps proposed by Ohio Republicans on Friday. In a 4-3 decision, Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined all three of the court’s Democrats in sending the maps back to the Ohio Redistricting Commission. 

The commission, formed in 2015 as an amendment to the state constitution in an attempt to limit partisan gerrymandering, will now have to draw new maps that closely align with statewide vote totals. Republicans received around 54% of the statewide vote totals in the previous election. 

The original map proposed by Republicans would have allowed Republicans to maintain their supermajorities in the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate, as well as 12 of the 14 Congressional districts.

“When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins. That perhaps explains how a party that generally musters no more than 55% of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75-80% of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation,” Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote of the majority opinion. 

“By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up.”

The ruling observed multiple instances of Republicans in the state legislature attempting to exercise control over this year’s map-making process.

The opinion noted that the Ohio Redistricting Commission had no employees and instead allocated $150,000 to each chamber.

The two mapmakers — Republican staffers Blake Springhetti and Ray DiRossi — reported directly to Republican legislative leaders, the speaker of the Ohio House and the president of the Ohio Senate, rather than to the commission. 

The court noted that the proposed maps split the reliably-Democratic counties of Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Summit.

Hamilton County, which voted 57% for President Joe Biden in 2020, would have been split into three districts combined with other more Republican leaning counties. This would create two Republican counties and a single competitive district. 

“The evidence here demonstrates that Senate President (Matt) Huffman and House Speaker (Bob) Cupp controlled the process of drawing the maps that the commission ultimately adopted,” Democratic Justice Melody Stewart wrote in the ruling.

In a dissenting opinion Justices Sharon Kennedy and Pat DeWine argued that the court did not have the authority to send the maps back to the commission. 

The Justice wrote that the court was overreaching its constitutional authority as the constitution did not have enforcement mechanisms related to map drawing.

“The majority opinion is unreasonably, unabashedly and unlawfully altering the Ohio Constitution,” Justice Pat Fischer wrote in a separate opinion.

The commission will now work on redrawing the maps. In a statement, Republican Governor Mike DeWine said that he would work with his fellow redistricting commission members to draw new maps “that are consistent with the Court’s order.”

The court is also hearing arguments on the proposed congressional maps. 

The filing deadline for all candidates in Ohio is Feb. 2. The commission may have new legislative maps before then, but the court may also rule on the congressional maps before the February deadline.