Ohio Supreme Court dismisses 3 long-running redistricting lawsuits against state legislative maps
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The more than two-year legal battle over the maps of Ohio Statehouse districts that were crafted in response to the 2020 Census may be over.
In a 4-3 ruling late Monday, the Ohio Supreme Court cited unanimous, bipartisan passage in September of a new round of legislative maps in dismissing three long-running lawsuits brought by Democratic and voting-rights groups.
After winning five straight rounds of wrangling that found the redrawn districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans, they had sought to raise new objections this time to other actions of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“Now that the commission has adopted a plan with bipartisan support, the facts currently before us bear no resemblance to the allegations in petitioners’ complaints,” said the unsigned majority opinion, joined by all four of the court’s Republican justices.
The decision means the commission’s new maps will be in place through 2030, unless opponents file a new suit or voters pass changes to Ohio’s redistricting system that backers are working to place on the November 2024 ballot.
The high court side-stepped additional constitutional questions on the maps, rejecting as moot the state’s requests that it vacate earlier rulings that found five straight rounds of Statehouse maps unconstitutional.
According to the state auditor’s calculations, the new GOP-drawn maps give Republicans an advantage in 61 of 99 — or about 62% — of Ohio House districts, and in 23 of 33 — or roughly 70% — of state Senate districts. Ohio’s political breakdown has been calculated at roughly 54% Republican, 46% Democratic.
“Our decision today means that these cases are not the appropriate vehicles for addressing challenges to the September 2023 plan,” the decision said, adding that justices were expressing “no view on the merits” of opponents’ objections.
In a dissenting opinion written by Justice Jennifer Brunner, the court’s three Democrats argued that dismissing the cases forces groups fighting the maps to either give up without their objections being heard — or to start again with a fresh lawsuit.
“It is illusory to suggest that a bipartisan vote to adopt the September 2023 plan constitutes a change in circumstances that somehow diminishes our review power or renders a unanimous redistricting plan constitutionally compliant,” she wrote.
Brunner wrote that the majority ruling had relegated the court’s constitutional role “to little more than a two-bit player in furthering the delay already embedded in the history of this case.”
The high court has seen a realignment since it issued its five earlier rulings against Statehouse maps, with the retirement last December of former Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor due to age limits.
O’Connor is now working on the effort to pass constitutional changes to the existing map-making system.
The proposal would create a 15-member citizen panel of Republicans, Democrats and independents representing a geographic and demographic cross-section of the state, called the Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission, to replace the existing Ohio Redistricting Commission.
The group Citizens Not Politicians was cleared last week to begin signature-gathering.
“Our members will be out in the field with their clipboards collecting signatures on the Citizens Not Politicians amendment later this week,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which is joining the effort. “Only when Ohio bans politicians and lobbyists from rigging maps will voters have fair representation in Congress and the Ohio Statehouse.”