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Redistricting officials argue for and against Ohio's legislative maps in court filings

Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The redistricting committee meets again to hear public input on maps.

The four Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission who voted for the latest round of House and Senate district maps are making their argument for why the plan is constitutional.

The court filings from Republican and Democratic commissioners are in response to the objections raised by plaintiffs against the state legislative maps passed on February 24.

Voter rights advocates, community organizations and a national Democratic group raised objections to the new Republican-drawn House and Senate maps, which is dubbed as the "Third Plan" in court filings.

The plaintiffs say the maps create more than a dozen competitive districts for Democrats and zero competitive districts for Republicans. They say the competitive districts should be symmetrical for the parties.

Attorneys of House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) contend those objections "moved the constitutional goalposts."

The response argues that the plaintiffs have changed their definition of a competitive district and adds that a previous Democratic-drawn map had the same amount of competitive districts.

"Rather than concede the constitutionality of the Third Plan, petitioners lurch in the direction of constitutional crisis (and election chaos)," writes Phillip Strach, attorney for Cupp and Huffman.

The new state legislative district maps create 54 Republican and 45 Democratic seats in the House and 18 Republican and 15 Democratic seats in the Senate.

GOP House and Senate Map Feb 24.jpg
Ohio Redistricting Commission
Ohio House and Ohio Senate district maps, drawn by Republicans, approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission by a vote of 4-3 on February 24, 2022.

Democratic commissioners, House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), filed responses in court siding with the plaintiffs.

"This marks the third attempt by the Republican commissioners to advance a patently unconstitutional redistricting plan that would enable Republicans to maintain a stranglehold on the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives," writes C. Benjamin Cooper, attorney for Russo and Sykes.

They argued that a plan that creates more competitive districts for one party than another is a form of gerrymandering that unduly favors Republicans.

In their court filing, Russo and Sykes are calling on the court to: invalidate the Republican-drawn map, rule the Democratic-drawn map as constitutional, or appoint a special master of the court to prepare a constitutional plan.

Attorney Marion Little, representing Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), echoed the argument of Cupp and Huffman, saying the objections over symmetry is not found in the constitution or in Ohio law: "At this point, petitioners have no credible basis for objection."

Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio), a redistricting commissioner, has said the ability to hold the primary on May 3 is now up to the court.

Huffman says lawmakers do not plan to change the date of the primary unless the supreme court decides to invalidate the maps for a third time.

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