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Government/Politics

Court Challenges To New Ohio House And Senate Maps Possible, But Risky

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Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
There are seven justices on the Ohio Supreme Court. Now, four are Republicans and three are Democrats.

The judicial system at the state and federal levels has changed since the maps were drawn in 2011 and then upheld in court.

Three public hearings are scheduled starting Sunday on new Ohio House and Senate district maps, which appear to encourage Republican supermajorities in those chambers. And there’s criticism that this map-drawing process doesn’t reflect the changes voters put in place in 2015, leading some to speculate the maps will be challenged in court.

Ohio’s current legislative and Congressional maps were upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court in 2012. But Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor voted against those maps, along with the court's lone Democrat, Yvette McGee-Brown. Republican Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote the dissent for the trio.

Now, three of the seven justices are Democrats, and O’Connor is still chief justice.

Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor Ned Foley said O'Connor's 2012 vote is an example of the risk either side takes in drawing overly partisan maps or taking them to court.

“As a rule of thumb, you think about ideology, but there are exceptions and surprises. And it can happen in this area of law.”

Foley said the Ohio Supreme Court has two more Democrats than it did when the maps were upheld in 2012, and there’s also been change in the federal courts, so there’s much more legal uncertainty now than there was 10 years ago.

“The gamble that the politicians may be making now is a riskier bet in terms of being able to survive court challenges, I think it’s fair to say," said Foley.

Foley also noted that the statements from Republican leaders that the maps were drawn without looking at any racial data at all could be a problem under the Voting Rights Act. And that could mean challenges in federal court.

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