Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Blatantly Gerrymandered Districts

By Anne Caruso

In 2015 Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to amend the Ohio Constitution to require fair district maps for state elections. These maps were to be drawn by a bi-partisan Ohio Redistricting Commission whose membership would favor the party in power. The current commission is composed of 2 Democrats and 5 Republicans. 

Last year this bi-partisan but unequal Ohio Redistricting Commission thumbed its nose at Ohio voters and disproportionately gave Republicans a veto-proof majority of districts. The ACLU of Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Covington & Burling LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Ohio League of Women Voters, the Ohio chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and several individuals against the new maps. The lawsuit illustrated that Republicans in the past decade won from 42% to 59.7% in statewide elections not the 67% of the state House districts and 69% of the state Senate districts that the Commission drew. 

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the newly drawn maps went against the spirit and letter of the new amendment to the Ohio Constitution. The Court decision pivoted on the vote of Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. Her vote broke a tie between Democrats and Republicans on the Court. “All parties agreed that in statewide partisan elections over the past decade, Republican candidates had won 54 percent of the vote share and Democratic candidates had won 46 percent of the vote share,” wrote Justice Melody Stewart in the Court’s decision. Lawyers for the majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission argued that  as long as certain technical requirements were followed, the maps complied with the new Constitutional Amendment. The court disagreed with this argument and held that the public voted for and expected fair maps and that the commission’s work was to focus on the fairness of the maps. The decision on state district maps came on January 12th with the court calling for new maps to be submitted by January 24th. On January 14th, the court also ruled that the federal district maps were unfair and called for new federal maps to be submitted in 30 days. What the next steps will be depends on the new maps that are submitted.