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Ohio Supreme Court votes along party lines to uphold maps giving supermajorities to GOP

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine (center) swears in members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission: Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township), Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Republican Auditor Keith Faber,
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
At the first meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission since May 2022, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine (center) swears in members Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township), Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Republican Auditor Keith Faber, Sen. Rob McCaulley (R-Napoleon), House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).

New House and Senate district maps approved unanimously by the Ohio Redistricting Commission will stand, after a late afternoon decision by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The ruling was widely expected as the court's composition had changed after the 2022 election. Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who joined Democrats in striking down legislative maps five times in the last year, couldn’t run for re-election to the court.

The court split 4-3 along party lines in upholding the new maps, which give Republicans a 62% advantage in the House and nearly 70% in the Senate.

In the majority opinion, the court’s four Republican justices ruled that because the maps were approved by Republicans and Democrats on the Redistricting Commission, the claims in the lawsuit initially filed by opponents in 2021 are moot.

"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," wrote the Republican justices in an unsigned majority opinion. "We therefore dismiss these cases."

The League of Women Voters of Ohio and Democratic candidate Bria Bennett of Warren had filed the lawsuit, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. That group is led by Eric Holder, who served as President Obama's attorney general.

Justice Jennifer Brunner wrote the dissent, and was joined by the court's other two Democrats. She wrote that it's "illusory" that the bipartisan vote on these maps removes the court's power to review the maps or automatically means they're constitutional.

"The majority’s decision amounts to a permission slip to ignore the constitution and is yet another disappointing milepost in this litigation," Brunner wrote. "The majority’s decision hazards conveying to the public that we are reticent to fulfill our constitutional duty to review state legislative-redistricting plans to ensure their inherent coherence with constitutional requirements for fair legislative representation."

The ruling means the maps will be in place until 2030, unless an amendment backed by former chief justice Maureen O’Connor to replace the Redistricting Commission with a 15-member citizens panel is approved by voters next year. The group she's heading up, Citizens Not Politicians, is beginning the signature-gathering process to put the issue on the November 2024 ballot.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.