The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday ruled against Republican-drawn congressional district map lines that would have given the GOP an overwhelming advantage in the next decade.
In a narrow 4-3 decision, the majority found that the boundary lines violated a voter-approved measure in 2018 that handed the power to draw political boundary lines to a commission, in hopes of stemming the practice of gerrymandering.
The decision comes two days after the state Supreme Court struck down legislative district lines on the same basis that the lines unduly favored one party.
“[T]he evidence in these cases makes clear beyond all doubt that the General Assembly did not heed the clarion call sent by Ohio voters to stop political gerrymandering,” Justice Michael Donnelly wrote for the majority.
The new maps, drawn by the state legislature after the redistricting commission came to an impasse in November, were among the most aggressive attempts so far this year to redraw a state with an eye toward favoring one party. At least 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts would have favored Republicans under the legislature’s map, while Democratic voters were packed into just three districts; the remaining district would have tilted narrowly toward Republicans.
Democrats and good government groups argued that the disproportionately pro-Republican map violated Ohio’s constitution, which voters amended four years ago. That amendment prohibits Ohio’s General Assembly from passing “a plan that unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.”
Those groups celebrated Friday’s ruling as a win, though the final district map lines must still be drawn.
“It is time for the state legislature to put aside partisan interests and prioritize the needs of Ohio voters. It is time for legislative leaders to put aside their personal partisan interests and create truly fair and representative maps that reflect Ohio,” said Catherine Turner, executive director of Common Cause Ohio. “The manipulation of districts is the manipulation of elections and voters have had enough.”
Donnelly and the four-justice majority agreed.“Gerrymandering is the antithetical perversion of representative democracy. It is an abuse of power,” Donnelly wrote. “When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins.”
Republicans hold a majority of the court’s seven seats, but Donnelly and the two other Democrats were joined in the decision by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican first appointed to the bench nearly 20 years ago. O’Connor was also the deciding vote in the ruling this week that struck down legislative district lines.
The ruling will send the legislature scrambling to create new congressional district lines that can pass muster with the court within 30 days. If the legislature is unable to come up with final district lines, the voter-created redistricting commission — made up of Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Russia have face-to-face sit down States turning to National Guard for COVID-19 help as omicron surges Ohio Democrats announce gubernatorial running mates MORE (R), Auditor Keith Faber (R), Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) and four representatives from the legislature — will have 30 days to craft their own maps.
The court’s decision creates a new urgency to get the lines done: Candidate filing ahead of this year’s congressional midterm elections is scheduled to open March 4.