Ohio Supreme Court strikes down congressional cards for second time

For the second time, the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a map of the state’s congressional districts.

The court ruled that the map violated the constitution by favoring one political party over another, regardless of the results of elections in the state.

“We believe that the March 2 plan unduly favors the Republican Party and disadvantages the Democratic Party in violation of the (Ohio Constitution),” reads the majority decision.

The 4-3 decision mirrors other decisions the court has made on the redistricting: Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor voted to reject the maps, along with Justice Michael Donnelly, Justice Melody Stewart and Justice Jennifer Brunner. Justices Sharon Kennedy, Patrick DeWine and Patrick Fischer all dissented in the case.

In ruling against partisanship on the Congressional map, the court called for the commission to create Democratic districts with slim benefits, while Republican-leaning seats “comfortably favor Republican candidates.”

In the most recent Congressional map, only three Democratic-leaning seats have more than 52% Dem advantage, while all Republican-leaning seats have more than 53% GOP advantage.

“Given that Democratic candidates received approximately 47% of the vote in recent statewide elections, this likely outcome represents only a modest improvement over the (previously) invalidated plan,” according to the ruling. of the court.

The court rejected arguments made by members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, including Senate Chairman Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, both of whom have since left the commission, replaced by Senator of State Rob McColley and State Representative Jeff LaRe.

Legislative leaders and their replacements on the committee tried to argue that they were not obligated to correct “legal flaws” in the original Congressional plan when revising the plan.

“The commission’s constitutional duty is to adopt a congressional district plan to replace the invalidated original plan,” the court’s majority wrote. “Indeed, the commission has a constitutional duty to remedy the defects of the previous plan.

Huffman, Cupp, McColley and LaRe said fixing the “flaws” would “incentivize” Democrats to vote against the plan, and called the article setting out the anti-gerrymandering rules “a kind of safety valve” for the The ORC adopts a plan that doesn’t have to align with the same redistricting rules as the General Assembly.

“There is no constitutional language to suggest that the voters who approved of Article XIX intended to allow the prohibitions against partisan patronage and undue division of government units to be so easily circumvented,” the majority said.

The lawsuit was filed in March, after the Ohio Supreme Court rejected calls to dismiss the maps in a previous congressional redistricting lawsuit. The court said that because its previous decision to reject the first Congressional card was final, the challengers had to file a new lawsuit to challenge the second version.

The Supreme Court rejected the first card on the same grounds as the second rejection: partisan patronage.

In their disagreement with the majority decision, Kennedy and Patrick DeWine said they would have left the plan in place as constitutional and allowed its use for the 2024 primary and general elections.

Kennedy and DeWine said that because they would have argued that the first map of Congress “did not unduly favor Republicans and was constitutional”, they would have done the same for the second plan.

DeWine, who is the son of Governor Mike DeWine, has recused himself from any legal action regarding the detention of ORC members in contempt of court due to his father’s involvement as a member of the commission. However, he has refused calls for his recusal in all redistricting cases due to his father’s involvement in the process.

Fischer joined the dissent, but wrote separately to assert that the map’s challengers “do not even meet the clear and convincing lower burden of proof or the even lower burden of proof of the preponderance of evidence” than the second map. of Congress unduly favored the Republicans.

He also criticized the process conducted by the state Supreme Court, saying the lack of hearings “undoubtedly raises concerns among the public about the lack of transparency of this court.”

“This court’s misguided rush to decide these cases has resulted in unnecessary and truncated proceedings that have effectively tied this court’s hands and rendered it unable to make an informed decision,” Fischer wrote.

The court gave the General Assembly 30 days to pass a new map, and if they can’t, the Ohio Redistricting Commission will have another 30 days to do so.

Since the May primary, which included races for Congress, has already taken place, the impact of a new Congressional plan will continue until the 2024 election.

The legislature is currently in summer recess and is expected to return in the fall. Huffman’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the decision, or whether they would reconvene the AGM sooner to address the matter.

A Cupp spokesperson said the office is reviewing the decision.

ORC Co-Chair, Democratic State Sen. Vernon Sykes, joined Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko in saying the court “made it clear that Republicans have repeatedly used the process of redistricting to give yourself an unfair advantage”.

“Once again, we are prepared to follow the law and give the people of Ohio the fair cards they have demanded,” Sykes and Yuko said in a statement. “We hope this time our fellow Republicans will join us, instead of trying to run out of time.”

A spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s Chief Electoral Officer and a member of the redistricting commission, said LaRose’s office received the decision and a legal team was reviewing the decision.

The League of Women Voters, one of two parties that challenged the Congressional maps, welcomed the decision and hoped for quick and public action to pass new Congressional maps.

“We agree that the Congressional map is beyond a reasonable doubt, and we’re ready to work with mapmakers to see a map produced that truly champions the will of voters for a free and fair election,” said Jen Miller, director executive. from the LWV of Ohio.

Follow the OCJ journalist Susan Tebben on Twitter.

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