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Lawsuit filed over latest legislative maps adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission

The Supreme Court of Ohio chamber.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The Supreme Court of Ohio chamber.

As expected, a lawsuit has been filed in the Ohio Supreme Court over the legislative redistricting maps passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Sept. 26.

The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Covington & Burling LLP claims the House and Senate maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The legal objection was filed on behalf of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and a group of individual Ohio voters. The groups opposed the maps approved in 2021 and 2022 by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, all of which were struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said the maps are so clearly in violation of the Ohio Constitution that they cannot go unchallenged.

“The fact that the commission enacted this gerrymandered plan, in total disregard of the voters, is one more illustration that the process is broken. More than four hundred days after the Supreme Court of Ohio – for the sixth time – ordered the Commission to craft fair maps, history is repeating itself – again,” Levenson said.

Levenson said real reform is needed and says it will come in the form of a new constitutional amendment in 2024.

Groups bringing the lawsuit weigh in

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the maps violate the state's Constitution and the right of voters to have fair representation in the legislature.

 “The new statehouse maps were drawn for one reason only: to make sure that sitting lawmakers continue to win re-election. This several year saga has taught all of us that politicians cannot be trusted to draw impartial districts, which is why we will also do everything in our power to see the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment through to victory at the ballot box in 2024,” Miller said.

Miller is part of that Citizens Not Politicians coalition that is pushing to get an amendment on the ballot in 2024. A 15-member citizens panel would draw the lines instead of elected officials, and current and former politicians would be banned from it. The attorney general has approved the summary language for that measure. The group now must go before the Ohio Ballot Board to determine whether the amendment can remain as one petition or would need to be broken into multiple issues.

Andre Washington, president of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, said his group could “not stand by as Ohio politicians continue to grow their power” at the expense of voters. He said allowing these gerrymandered maps to be used through 2030, as they could be used if unchallenged, would be a disgrace to democracy.

Lawsuit was not unexpected
Lawsuits have been filed over previous maps too. But this map was adopted with unanimous support of the seven member Ohio Redistricting Commission. But the two Democrats who voted for the maps said they thought they were gerrymandered, but if they hadn’t, maps that were even less to their liking would have been put in place.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has defended gerrymandered maps in recent years, even if the Ohio Supreme Court has five times in the past ruled those maps unconstitutional. Huffman said he doesn’t think redistricting reform that removes politicians from the process is the answer.

“Well, we have a we have a definition of politician that some people put over there and say that's the worst person in the world. And then we have another definition of these are the people who step forward to make decisions and on behalf of the public," Huffman said. "So, when people say 'politicians', I say 'elected officials' and people say, well, elected officials shouldn't do that, unelected people should do that. And that is not representative democracy. That's not what our constitution says."

This lawsuit requests that the Ohio Supreme Court invalidate the latest maps and order the commission to draw new maps within a few days.

But the makeup of that court has changed since it last ruled redistricting maps unconstitutional, with Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor no longer on the bench. O'Connor joined the court's three Democrats in all the rulings rejecting the previous maps. It is widely believe the majority of justices now sitting on the court would be more inclined to approve the new maps.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.