COLUMBUS, OH (AP) – The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday invalidated legislative maps drawn up by the GOP, agreeing with voting advocates that the lines were unconstitutionally rigged.
In Order 4-3, the court sent the cards back to the Ohio County Reform Commission to try again to comply with the 2015 constitutional amendment. This amendment requires that there be an attempt to avoid party favoritism. The judges gave the group 10 days and retained jurisdiction to review their work.
The controversy stems from the process of redrawing county maps for legislatures and Congress, which states are required to conduct once every decade to reflect changes in the US census.
It was the first time that the influential District Reallocation Commission drew up new legislative maps for the 99 Ohio House of Representatives and 33 Ohio Senate districts. Its members – five Republicans and two Democrats – failed to reach a bipartisan consensus, so the card they approved on September 16 through the party line was only four years, not 10 years.
Two Democrats on the commission, Senator Vernon Sykes and Rep. Emilia Sykes, his daughter, said the decision confirmed the Democrats’ claim that the lines were “unfair, unrepresentative and unconstitutional.”
Republican Gov. Mike DeVine, a commissioner whose son was among the dissenting judges on Wednesday, pledged in a statement “to work with my fellow Constituency Change Commissioners on revised maps that are in line with the court order.”
In a letter on behalf of the majority, Judge Melody Stewart, a Democrat, stated that the cards are favored by one party and do not meet the amendment standard, which requires districts to be prorated to reflect Ohio’s 54% Republican and 46% Democratic mix of voters.
Moderate Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who is due to leave court on Dec. 31 due to age restrictions at age 70, secured a casting vote by joining three Democrats in the court to win national suffrage and Democratic groups.
Republicans who oversaw the mapping process argued that the commission had fulfilled its constitutional mandate by adhering to a variety of other protocols, making provisions on party favoritism and proportionality controversial.
In their opposition, the three remaining Republicans in court argued that the majority seized on “broad powers of judicial review” not available to the court under the provisions of the 2015 constitutional amendment.
“The text of the Ohio Constitution is clear, and given the allegations in the complaints, this court does not have the authority to act as required by the applicants bringing these cases,” wrote Justice Patrick Fisher.
This decision affects three separate lawsuits against cards filed on behalf of Ohio voters by a variety of national groups, including the National Democratic Constituency Change Committee, ACLU, League of Women Voters, CAIR-Ohio, and the Ohio Organizational Collaboration.
Freda Levenson, the Ohio ACLU’s legal director, said the decision sent a clear message to lawmakers that they cannot “put politics over people.”
“The Ohio Supreme Court decision is huge,” she said in a statement. “Not only does he mandate an immediate new constitutional map, but he also reaffirms that Ohio’s voter-enacted constitutional ban on guerrilla machinations is not just ‘desirable’ – it has real teeth. This bodes well for the 2022 electoral cycle and beyond. ”