GOP Gerrymandering in Ohio Thwarted by State Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Ohio has struck down proposed new electoral maps for state House and Senate districts and ruled the plan did not meet requirements laid out in the state's constitution.

The court ruled 4-3 to throw out the maps and ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw up new maps within 10 days. The court still has the right to review the new plan.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican, voted with the three Democratic members of the court and accused the Ohio Redistricting Commission of being partisan. The three other Republican members dissented.

The court's majority found that the maps did not meet the requirements in Article XI, Section 6 of the state constitution designed to tackle partisan gerrymandering.

That measure, approved by Ohio voters in 2015, says in part: "The statewide proportion of districts whose voters, based on statewide state and federal partisan general election results during the last ten years, favor each political party shall correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio."

The court's majority opinion was authored by Justice Melody Stewart who said that those preferences had been 54 percent for Republican candidates and 46 percent for Democratic candidates over the past 10 years, but the maps did not reflect this.

"The commission is required to attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely corresponds to those percentages," Stewart wrote.

"Section 6 speaks not of desire but of direction: the commission shall attempt to achieve the standards of that section," she said.

Stewart rejected an argument from Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, both Republicans and members of the commission, that Section 6 was "aspirational" and only applied if other requirements were not met.

"We reject the notion that Ohio voters rallied so strongly behind an anti-gerrymandering amendment to the Ohio Constitution yet believed at the time that the amendment was toothless," Stewart wrote.

According to Huffman, the maps could have given the GOP an advantage of 62 seats to 37 in the House and 23 seats to 10 in the House.

Republicans had defended the proposed maps by arguing that voters in Ohio preferred GOP candidates between 54 percent—the average percentage of Republican votes in statewide elections—and 81 percent of the time, according to The Columbus Dispatch. That latter figure represents the percentage of statewide races the GOP has won in the last decade.

Chief Justice O'Connor criticized the Ohio Redistricting Commission for being partisan in a concurring opinion.

"Having now seen firsthand that the current Ohio Redistricting Commission—comprised of statewide elected officials and partisan legislators—is seemingly unwilling to put aside partisan concerns as directed by the people's vote, Ohioans may opt to pursue further constitutional amendment to replace the current commission with a truly independent, nonpartisan commission that more effectively distances the redistricting process from partisan politics," O'Connor wrote.

Justice Stewart also suggested that the redistricting commission had been partisan. Two Republicans staffers had drawn up the maps and reported to Huffman and Cupp rather than the commission generally.

"The evidence here demonstrates that Senate President Huffman and House Speaker Cupp controlled the process of drawing the maps that the commission ultimately adopted," Stewart wrote.

Voters Cast Their Ballots in Virginia
Voters cast ballots at the Fairfax County Government Center on November 02, 2021 in Fairfax, Virginia. The Ohio Supreme Court struck down electoral maps on Wednesday accusing them of being partisan. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images