Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Republican-Drawn Congressional Maps — Again

On Monday night, the Ohio Supreme Court threw out Republican-drawn congressional maps after justices ruled GOP maps unconstitutionally gerrymandered for the second time.

The justices ruled that the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s latest attempt to draw constitutional maps that accurately represent the electorate were too skewed toward Republicans. It was a 4 to 3 ruling, with one moderate Republican joining the court’s Democrats in rejecting the redrawn map.

According to the ruling, Republicans in the legislature had proposed nixing one Republican-leaning House district and one Republican-leaning Senate district in central Ohio. But the Democratic-leaning districts that would replace them were only Democratic by “very slim margins,” the justices wrote.

Although prior elections have shown that roughly 54 percent of Ohio voters prefer Republicans while 46 percent prefer Democrats, the new maps skewed even more favor to the GOP, giving them 58 percent of seats. According to the Ohio Constitution, the maps must be representative of the electorate’s preferences.

“[T]he revised plan’s structure guarantees that the 58 percent seat share for Republicans is a floor whereas the 42 percent seat share for Democrats is a ceiling,” the ruling reads. New maps are due back by February 17.

Though the new maps are closer to a representative partisan split than the first ones Republicans submitted, the ruling said that adjustments to the maps were a facade.

The first maps gave Republicans about 62 percent of House seats and nearly 70 percent of Senate seats. Justices wrote that Republicans had not started the new maps from scratch, but rather tweaked the old, unconstitutional maps. GOP lawmakers “started with the same plan that we invalidated and then merely adjusted certain districts just enough so that they could nominally be reclassified as ‘Democratic-leaning,’” the ruling reads.

Voting rights advocates praised the court decision. “Now that the Ohio Redistricting Commission is back to square one, we ask that they finally stop and listen to the voters’ demands for a fair redistricting process,” Common Cause Ohio said in a statement, lamenting the fact that the commissions’ map drawing process is done behind closed doors. “After today’s ruling, these partisan games must come to an end. It’s time for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to do its job.”

The bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission is made up of five Republicans and two Democrats and was created in the hopes of stamping out partisanship in map drawing. But the panel has failed to reach a bipartisan consensus on its maps twice so far.

Republican lawmakers have been able to sidestep the commission in the map drawing process, though Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp told reporters that the new maps will be drawn solely by the commission.

In response to the maps being rejected for a second time, Democrats released their own version of the maps, which they say adheres to the Ohio Constitution’s guidelines for a partisan split.

“Our congressional map proposal keeps communities together, reflects the preferences of Ohio voters, and follows the Constitution. Most importantly, it does not unduly favor or disfavor a political party, in compliance with the Court’s ruling,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“There are multiple pathways to achieve the fair, constitutional map that Ohioans deserve, and our updated map is yet another example demonstrating this legislature can deliver a fair map that complies with the court order and the Ohio Constitution,” Russo continued.