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Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Redistricting Map Again

The Court has rejected the Republicans’ official congressional map plan for a second time this year and has given the Legislature 30 days to redraw a new map, which would be used for the 2024 election.

(TNS) — For the second time this year, the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected state Republicans’ official congressional map plan as illegally gerrymandered, citing the new redistricting language added by voters to the state constitution in 2018.

But the ruling, issued Tuesday morning, almost certainly will not affect this year’s elections since the primary election for Ohio’s ongoing congressional races already was held in May, with the general election set for November. While the ruling is silent on the 2022 elections, it does not explicitly describe vacating the results of the May election and other interventions that would indicate the court is trying to block the map from being used in the current election cycle.

In the ruling, issued by a 4-3 majority, the court gives the Republican-controlled state legislature 30 days to draw a new congressional map, which would be used for the 2024 election. If the legislature fails to act, the court said the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission, a panel of state elected officials, would have another 30 days after that.

Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor once again joined the court’s three Democrats in rejecting a GOP-drawn map. The other three Republican justices, Pat DeWine, Sharon Kennedy and Pat Fisher, dissented, accusing the majority of exceeding their legal authority.

The same combination of justices has issued similar rulings six other times this year — five rulings rejecting state legislative maps, and another, in January, rejecting Republicans’ previous congressional map plan.

The map the court rejected favors Republicans on paper to win 10 of Ohio’s 15 congressional districts, although two of the Democratic-leaning districts, one based in Cincinnati and the other in Toledo, project as hotly competitive and can be thought of as toss-up districts. A Democratic-leaning district based in Akron also is winnable for Republicans but contains a relatively safer built-in advantage for Democrats of around 5 percentage points.

Two sets of groups filed the lawsuits that led to Tuesday’s ruling. One was from the ACLU of Ohio and the League of Women Voters, while the other was from a local affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group founded by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder that’s waged legal challenges to new Republican-drawn maps in states across the country.

While they made different arguments, the groups contended Republicans that dominate the Ohio Redistricting Commission unfairly split Democratic urban areas and the politically competitive suburban areas surrounding them to maximize the GOP’s advantage.

The Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission approved the map. The Republican members are Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, state Auditor Keith Faber, and the Republican state legislative leaders, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman. The commission’s two Democrats are House Minority Leader Allison Russo and state Sen. Vernon Sykes.

Ohio voters added the new redistricting language the court cited on Tuesday to the state constitution in 2018 as an anti-gerrymandering reform. In a compromise with Democrats, Republicans agreed to back the reform to create what they said would be more competitive and fairer districts with, thanks to how the rules were designed, greater incentives for bipartisan cooperation and transparency. The new rules say that maps passed without bipartisan support must meet a legal standard to not “unduly” benefit a political party or its incumbents.

A similar process saw new redistricting rules for state legislative districts added to the state constitution in 2015.

But the redistricting process hasn’t played out as designed. Republicans, particularly Cupp and Huffman, have tightly controlled the process, often introducing maps at the last minute with little opportunity for input from Democrats. Republicans meanwhile have accused the court of overreaching in its decisions and eventually threatened to impeach O’Connor, who’s retiring at the end of the year due to judicial age limits, for ruling against them.

The Tuesday ruling is the second to reject a Republican-drawn congressional map. The court rejected a previous Republican-drawn plan in January. But a second map, approved by Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission in March, ended up being used anyway for Ohio’s first primary election in May due to technical legal differences between the state legislative and congressional map cases.

A parallel legal process challenging new state legislative maps resulted in Ohio House and Senate races being pulled from the May election. But a federal court ordered one of the maps rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court as illegal to be used in a second primary election on Aug. 2, under a ruling issued in May by two appointees of ex-President Donald Trump.

Amid the ongoing state legislative election, the state Supreme Court in May gave the redistricting commission until early June to draw new state legislative maps that would be used for the 2024 elections.

But state Republicans ignored the order, contending that without the pending deadline of an imminent election, the court lacks the legal power to order them to draw maps by a particular date.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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