The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday slammed the state congressional district map, saying Republicans violated the Ohio Constitution by drawing districts that favor GOP candidates.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is, once again, a key vote in the 4-3 decision to reject the map, which could have given Republicans a 12-3 advantage in the state that voted for President Barack Obama. And President Donald Trump, twice.
It has violated an overwhelmingly endorsed language by voters in 2018 to prevent a map from inappropriately favoring one party or its bureaucrats.
“When the dealer piles the deck in advance, the house usually wins,” Judge Michael Donnelly wrote in the court’s opinion.
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Now, Ohio lawmakers will be returned to the drawing board in 30 days to create a new map. If they are unable to reach a solution, the Ohio Reorganization Commission – a statewide elected officials and committee of state legislators – will have 30 days to do so. Mapmakers face a tough change because applicants must submit documents to work by March 4.
Those who demanded reform reform cheered the decision as a victory for democracy. The decision came two days after the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the state House and Senate maps for partisan gerrymandering.
“Once again, the Ohio Supreme Court steps in to defend every Ohio’s right to have the Ohio Constitution, our representative democracy and fair districts,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio Women’s Voters League. “We call on the Ohio General Assembly to finally put voters ahead of their far-sighted and selfish political interests.”
‘Filled with needless bias’
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that Republican lawmakers are gearing up for a map that favors GOP candidates rather than Democratic candidates. Lawmakers unnecessarily divided Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Summit counties, the court has concluded.
“The General Assembly has prepared a plan that is filled with unwarranted bias and it is incomprehensibly more biased than the 2011 plan,” Donnelly wrote.
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The court ruled that minor tweaks to the map were not enough – an overhaul was needed to fix it.
“This plan rejects the amendment on a simple district-by-district basis,” Donnelly wrote. “Therefore, we see no help other than invalidating the entire Congress-District Plan.”
Expert testimony provided as part of the lawsuit said Donnelly said Republican mapmakers packed Democratic voters in large cities in Ohio and created safe districts for GOP candidates.
Dr. Harris is a professor at Harvard University. Kosuke Imai concluded that Republicans are expected to win 2.8 more seats than the simulated plans under the Ohio map. Most simulated projects have created eight or nine positions that favor the GOP instead of 11 or more.
Donnelly’s comment also pushed Republican lawmakers against their map’s main defense: voters want competitive districts and their map fulfills that wish. “Article XIX does not require, prohibit or refer to competing districts,” he wrote.
The court honored three counties that were unfairly divided: Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Summit.
“The plan, which has been implemented into three districts for no apparent reason, divides Hamilton County into an unnecessary partisan advantage for the Republican party,” Donnelly wrote.
Hamilton County is divided into three districts on behalf of Republicans, with 57% of voters voting for President Joe Biden. Alternative projects divide Hamilton County only once, rather than combining Cincinnati with Warren County.
And the enacted map cut Akron out of its eastern Democratic-leaning suburbs and instead linked it with “more Republican rural areas that are 70 miles away.”
RedistributionTexas will get 2 congressional seats. Seven states will lose 1 seat, Census Bureau data shows
O’Connor: A major vote, again
O’Connor criticized his fellow Republicans in a four-paragraph consent opinion.
He said judges Sharon Kennedy, Patrick Fisher and Patrick Devine easily dismissed the evidence given by map challengers experts. In the disagreement of the trio, they called the “hand drift” the metrics used by experts.
O’Connor responded: “The strategy of any magician cannot hide the fact that the evidence is overwhelming: the map statistically presents the advantage of such bias, which unnecessarily favors the Republican Party.”
In a joint disagreement with no major authors, a majority of three GOP justices declared the maps unconstitutional “without presenting any viable criteria for improperly favoring a political party or dividing the county.”
In the footnote, the vast majority call the leader-author disagreement unprecedented. “This court has never used this authorship label. Its use is now unusual and inexplicable without explanation of disagreement.
Kennedy is running for the post of Chief Justice against Democrat Jennifer Brunner. The son of Divine Governor Mike Divine, he serves on the Ohio Redevelopment Commission and has signed legislation enacting congressional maps.
Why was the map questioned
Two groups have filed lawsuits against the map, one from the National Redistribution Fund of former Attorney General Eric Holder and the other from the Ohio Women’s Voters League, the Ohio Chapter of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and several individuals.
Republican staff members have drawn up the map in consultation with some lawmakers and approved without Democratic support. Since the map has no purchase from a minority party, it lasts four years. Ohio lost a congressional seat because its population grew at a slower rate than the nation.
A new map could be created for 10 years if lawmakers agree to a bipartisan solution.
Jesse Balmert is a reporter for the Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.