COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a third set of Ohio Statehouse district maps that Republicans insisted reflect the state’s partisan breakdown — and sent them back for a fourth try even as final ballots were being prepared for the May 3 primary.
In yet another 4-3 ruling late Wednesday, the court found the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission’s third attempt at drawing the maps again failed to pass constitutional muster. No Democrats have supported any of the three plans, and Republican Auditor Keith Faber joined Democrats in opposing the third plan.
This time, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a moderate Republican joining court Democrats, chose to write the majority opinion herself.
“Substantial and compelling evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the main goal of the individuals who drafted the second revised plan was to favor the Republican Party and disfavor the Democratic Party,” she wrote for the court.
Of particular concern was the fact that Republicans have all three times drafted the plan approved by the commission without input from Democratic members of the bipartisan commission.
“The commission has adopted three plans so far, but it still has not drafted one,” the court said. “Staff members of Senate President (Matt) Huffman and House Speaker (Bob) Cupp have drafted all three of the plans adopted by the commission.”
Dissenting justices sharply rebuked the majority — in which O’Connor was again joined by the court’s three Democrats — for imposing “shifting whims” with “no grounding in the text of the Constitution.”
“The majority decrees electoral chaos,” they wrote. “It issues an order all but guaranteed to disrupt an impending election and bring Ohio to the brink of a constitutional crisis.”
The ruling was a victory for national voting-rights and Democratic groups, though it remained unclear what would change the fourth time around. The string of defeats for Ohio’s ruling Republicans comes amid the once-per-decade redistricting process that all states must undertake to reflect population changes from the U.S. Census.
The state’s new redistricting process is essentially being written even as it’s carried out. A combination of Republican foot-dragging and legal wrangling has extended redistricting well into the 2022 primary season. It was intended to be completed last fall. Although primary election day nears, the GOP-led Legislature has resisted pushing back the date of the May 3 primary.
Ohioans overwhelmingly supported a 2015 constitutional amendment that mandated the redistricting commission at least attempt to avoid partisan favoritism and to proportionally distribute districts to reflect Ohio’s 54% Republican, 46% Democratic split.
O’Connor had joined Democrats in court rulings against the first two sets of legislative maps and against the state’s congressional district map. The court also ordered the congressional map redrawn on Jan. 14, giving lawmakers 30 days to do so. If they failed — which they did — lawmakers were ordered to return the reins to the redistricting panel for one more month. That process is underway.