On Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned a Congressional map skewed in favor of Republicans, ruling it was the equivalent of a dealer stacking the game, and sent it back to lawmakers. State to retry.
The map would have given Republicans a 12-to-three seat advantage in House of Representatives elections, even though the GOP recently won only about 55% of the statewide popular vote.
“This is not what Ohio voters wanted or expected,” the court said of the map.
Mapmakers in Ohio are not allowed to unduly favor any party in redistricting, after voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Ohio Constitution in 2018. The proposed map was drawn by Republicans in the Legislature and passed without Democratic support, and the court rejected it in a 4-to-3 decision.
“When the dealer stacks the deck ahead, the house generally wins,” Justice Michael Donnelly wrote for the majority, adding that the Republicans’ plan was “infused with undue partisan bias.”
The constitutional amendment was an effort to end partisan gerrymandering in the state, and the voting rights groups that filed the lawsuit, including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, argued that Republican lawmakers ignored the law.
Redistricting at a glance
Every 10 years, each state in the United States is required to redraw the boundaries of its congressional and state legislative districts in a process called redistricting.
The court agreed, finding that the evidence “clearly shows beyond doubt that the General Assembly ignored the clarion call sent by the voters of Ohio to stop political gerrymandering.”
When the case was heard last month, Republicans argued that the districts were fair and met the Constitution’s requirement not to be “unduly” favorable, and that Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat reelected in 2018, would have carried eight of the 15 new quarters. Republicans further said they had attracted six competitive seats in the House.
Signing the map into law in November, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican facing a primary challenge from his right this year, called the GOP’s plan a “fair, compact and competitive map.”
But the court strongly disagreed. He said the Republicans’ plan violated the law by dividing up Democratic-leaning counties to dilute their votes, including Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. Hamilton County was divided among three newly selected districts “for no apparent reason other than to confer an undue partisan advantage on the Republican Party,” the court said.
The Ohio Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers have 30 days to revise Congress’ maps. If they fail, the mapping moves to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which would have an additional 30 days. But a tighter deadline looms: March 4, when candidates must file documents to run.
The court’s decision came two days after rejecting Republican-drawn maps for the new State House and Senate districts.
In both cases, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, joined three Democratic judges in overturning the cards.
A congressional map acceptable to the court could give Democrats two to three additional seats in Ohio, some analysts have said.
Understand how redistricting works in the United States
What is redistricting? It is the redrawing of the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. This happens every 10 years, after the census, to reflect population changes.
A 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that partisan mapping could not be challenged in federal courts means state courts are now the remaining legal avenue for challenging partisan gerrymandering — at least in states like Ohio where the Constitution prohibits it.
A case headed to the North Carolina Supreme Court also seeks to overturn a GOP gerrymander. Republicans there would control up to 11 of the state’s 14 House seats with the new maps, compared to the party’s current advantage of eight seats to five. A lower court upheld the maps on Tuesday.
The state’s court cases are unfolding amid a landscape of diminishing prospects for Democrats and voting rights groups seeking to curb partisan gerrymandering. Broad voting rights legislation in Congress backed by President Biden and his party that would reduce gerrymandering received a near fatal blow this week from Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, who said that she would not support changing the filibuster rule to enact it.
In Ohio, Democrats celebrated the court’s decision. “Once again, the Supreme Court of Ohio has done what the legislature refused to do – listened to the will of the voters of Ohio,” said Elizabeth Walters, chairwoman of the Ohio Democratic Party, in a press release. “Any card that further rigs our state in favor of one party over another is unacceptable and we will be watching closely.”