Ohio Supreme Court strikes down GOP-approved Congressional map ‘infused with undue partisan bias’


The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the state’s congressional district map on Friday, saying Republicans violated the Ohio Constitution by drawing districts that favored GOP candidates.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor was, once again, a key vote in the 4-3 decision to reject the map, which could have given Republicans up to a 12-3 advantage in a state that voted for President Barack Obama. and President Donald Trump, twice.

This violated language overwhelmingly endorsed by voters in 2018 to prevent a card that unduly favored a party or its holders.

“When the dealer stacks the game up front, the house usually wins,” Judge Michael Donnelly wrote in the court opinion.

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Ohio Senate Republicans have unveiled a proposed map of congressional districts. It is expected to be approved this week, although it is unclear whether Democrats will support it.

Now, Ohio lawmakers will be sent back to the drawing board to create a new map within 30 days. If they can’t find a solution, the Ohio Redistricting Commission — a panel of elected officials and state legislators — will have 30 days to do so. Cartographers face a tight turnaround time as applicants need to complete paperwork to show up by March 4.

Those who pushed for redistricting reform applauded the decision as a victory for democracy. The ruling came just two days after the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the state House and Senate cards for partisan gerrymandering.

“Once again, the Ohio High Court is standing up to defend the Constitution of Ohio, our representative democracy, and the right of every Ohio to have equitable districts,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League. of Women Voters of Ohio. “We call on the Ohio General Assembly to finally put voters first, rather than their short-sighted and selfish political interests.”

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‘Infused with undue partisan bias’

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that Republican lawmakers gerrymandered a map that favored GOP candidates over Democratic candidates. Lawmakers also unnecessarily divided Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Summit counties, the court found.

“The General Assembly has produced a plan that is steeped in undue partisan bias and is incomprehensibly more grossly biased than the 2011 plan it replaced,” Donnelly wrote.

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The court concluded that small tweaks to the map wouldn’t be enough – a redesign was needed to fix it.

“This plan defies correction on a simple district-by-district basis,” Donnelly wrote. “We therefore see no other recourse than to invalidate the entire plan of the congressional district.”

Expert testimony provided in the lawsuits revealed that Republican mapmakers wrapped and cracked Democratic voters in Ohio’s biggest cities to create safer districts for GOP candidates, Donnelly said.

Harvard University professor Dr. Kosuke Imai concluded that Republicans needed to win 2.8 more seats under the Ohio map than under the simulated plans. Most mock plans created eight or nine seats that favored the GOP instead of 11 or more.

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Donnelly’s opinion also pushed back against the primary defense of their map by Republican lawmakers: that voters wanted competitive districts and that their map granted that wish. “Article XIX does not require, prohibit or even mention competitive districts,” he wrote.

The court focused on three unfairly divided counties: Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Summit.

“The adopted plan divides Hamilton County into three districts for no apparent reason other than to confer an undue partisan advantage on the Republican Party,” Donnelly wrote.

Hamilton County, where 57% of voters voted for President Joe Biden, has been split into three districts that favor Republicans. Alternative plans split Hamilton County only once, keeping Cincinnati in a district entirely within the county rather than combined with Warren County.

And the enacted map cut Akron off from its Democratic-leaning eastern suburbs and instead tied it to “highly Republican rural areas up to 70 miles away.”

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O’Connor: a key vote, again

O’Connor criticized fellow Republicans in a four-paragraph concurring opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor listens to argument in League of Women Voters of Ohio, et al.  v. Ohio Redistribution Commission, et al.  at the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 8, 2021. The lawsuit concerns the newly redesigned congressional map, which must be finalized before next year's election.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor listens to oral arguments in League of Women Voters of Ohio, et al. v. Ohio Redistribution Commission, et al. at the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 8, 2021. The lawsuit concerns the newly redesigned congressional map, which must be finalized before next year’s election.

She said Judges Sharon Kennedy, Patrick Fischer and Patrick DeWine too easily dismissed the evidence presented by the card challengers’ experts. In the trio’s dissent, they called the metrics the experts used “a sleight of hand.”

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O’Connor retorted, “No magician’s trick can hide what the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates: the card has such a partisan advantage statistically that it unduly favors the Republican Party.”

In a joint dissent with no lead author, the GOP justice trio said the majority declared the maps unconstitutional “without presenting a viable standard of what it means to unduly favor a political party or divide a county.”

In a footnote, the majority called the dissent without a lead author unprecedented. “This authorship tag has never been used by this court. Its use now, without explanation by dissent, is unusual and inexplicable.

Kennedy is running for Chief Justice against Democrat Jennifer Brunner. DeWine is the son of Governor Mike DeWine, who serves on the Ohio Redistricting Commission and signed the law enacting the Congressional Maps.

Why the card was disputed

Two groups have sued the card, one from the National Redistricting Action Fund of former Attorney General Eric Holder and another from the League of Women Voters of Ohio, from the Ohio branch of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and several individuals.

The map was drawn by Republican staff in consultation with a few lawmakers and passed without Democratic backing. Because the card did not have minority party membership, it was to last for four years. Ohio also lost a congressional seat because its population grew at a slower rate than the country.

Lawmakers could draw a new map that will last 10 years if they can agree on a bipartisan solution.

Ohio Supreme Court Congressional Redistricting Decision by CincinnatiEnquirer on Scribd

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Redistricting: Ohio Supreme Court Overturns Congressional Map


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