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Ohio Supreme Court rejects proposed legislative district maps for fifth time

The bench of the Ohio Supreme Court
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau

The Ohio Supreme Court invalidated the latest proposal for new state legislative districts, which was a resubmission by the Ohio Redistricting Commission of maps that were already rejected two months ago.

In a 4-3 decision, the supreme court said the proposed Ohio House and Ohio Senate district maps were unconstitutional and gave Republicans an unfair advantage.

The Republican-drawn maps were adopted by the redistricting commission on May 5, with four of the five GOP members voting for the proposal.

The draft was a resubmission of what has come to be known as Map 3, the commission’s third attempt at state legislative district maps that was adopted by the commission in February and rejected by the court in March.

Those maps create 54 Republican and 45 Democratic House seats along with 18 Republican and 15 Democratic Senate seats. That is a proportional reflection of Ohio’s voting preference which splits about 54% Republican and 46% Democratic. However, the supreme court invalidated the maps for unduly favoring the GOP because a disproportionate amount of those Democratic seats (16 in the House and six in the Senate) are toss-up districts.

Timeline: Follow the events of Ohio's redistricting process

This is the fifth time the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a set of state legislative district maps from the Ohio Redistricting Commission. On April 14, the court invalidated a fourth set of proposed maps and told the commission to adopt a new plan by May 6. Instead of adopting a new plan, the commission resubmitted Map 3 – making the argument that Map 3 was the only plan that allowed local elections officials enough time to get ready for an August 2 primary.

Since the commission resubmitted maps that were already rejected, it seems likely the Republican commissioners are relying on an impending federal court deadline to take over the process.

Federal judges, in a 2-1 decision, ruled if the commission could not adopt maps that were ruled constitutional by the supreme court by May 28 then the federal court would step in and implement unconstitutional maps.

The federal judges said they would go with Map 3 as the plan if the deadline is not met.

Voting rights advocates, community organizations, and a national Democratic group have all been fighting the Republican-drawn maps in court. They say the proposed intervention by the federal court would pull the rug out from under Ohio citizens and reward the GOP redistricting commissioners for drawing unconstitutional maps that favor their party.

The court also declined to order the members of the Redistricting Commission in contempt, as those challengers to the maps had requested.

Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote the court doesn't have the power to hold the Commission in contempt and that "maintaining respect for the enumerated powers granted expressly to the commission precludes this court from interfering with the exercise of those powers or attempting to supervise the commission’s work through the threat of contempt.”

Justice Pat Fischer also wrote that the US Supreme Court "has strongly cautioned courts against sanctioning individual legislators" and on the challengers' request for attorneys fees, he wrote "to remind all counsel not to file baseless motions".

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