The majority opinion rejecting the redrawn state legislative maps, written by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor (who is Republican), ordered the Redistricting Commission to complete new state legislative maps by Feb. 17. She cited data that the partisan index of the “Democratic-leaning” districts was razor-thin, listing several districts where Democrats are predicted to have from 50.003 to 50.14% of the votes.
“…the commission knowingly adopted a plan in which all the House districts whose voters favor Republicans do so at vote shares of 52.6 percent and above, while more than a quarter (12 out of 42) of the House districts whose voters “favor” Democrats do so at a vote share between 50 and 51 percent (meaning that a 1 percent swell in Republican vote share would sweep 12 additional districts into the Republican column),” she wrote. “Nine of those districts favor Democrats at a level under 50.5 percent. …. Regardless, the revised plan’s structure guarantees that the 58 percent seat share for Republicans is a floor whereas the 42 percent seat share for Democrats is a ceiling (pp.16-17).”
The justices in the majority also cited defects in the process. “As in the original plan that this court invalidated, there is also evidence that it was possible for the commission—had it committed to attempting a proportional map, worked collaboratively toward that end, and used its allotted time efficiently—to draw a map that achieved or closely achieved the 54 to 46 percent partisan share that we identified in League of Women Voters of Ohio. The record indicates that the commission did not reconvene until January 18—six days after our ruling ordering the commission to draft a new plan within ten days—and did not hold a substantive meeting until January 20, forcing the process to be rushed (pp. 18-19).”
The majority also refused a request that they stay their decision until after the 2022 election allowing the maps they had just found unconstitutional to be used in that election. “The General Assembly established the date of the primary election, see R.C. 3501.01(E)(1), and it has the authority to ease the pressure that the commission’s failure to adopt a constitutional redistricting plan has placed on the secretary of state and on county boards of elections by moving the primary election, should that action become necessary.”
A dissent signed by two justices, one the son of Gov. DeWine (a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission), accused the majority of gerrymandering in favor of Democrats even though the proportionality the majority calls for is a 54% Republican majority of state legislative seats, a Republican majority which all parties agree complies with the proportionality standard in the Ohio Constitution that the balance reflect the parties’ proportion of votes cast in statewide elections over the preceding decade.
On the same day the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s second set state legislative maps, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a decision by a three-judge federal panel (two appointed by President Trump) that Alabama’s newly-drawn Congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the votes of Black citizens, who represent almost 27% of the state population but only would get one majority-Black Congressional district out of 7. The majority decision means the maps will be used in the upcoming primary and most likely in the fall election while the case is heard in the Supreme Court’s fall session. The basis for their ruling is that the lower court invalidated the maps too close to the upcoming primary and early voting. Justice Kavanaugh said the stay makes no decision on the merits of the case, which the Supreme Court will hear later this year.
In Ohio, our anti-gerrymandering standards are now explicit in our state constitution through amendments passed by over 70% of Ohio voters. This includes giving the Ohio Supreme Court the authority to review the new maps for compliance with our state’s new constitutional redistricting criteria to prevent partisan gerrymandering, as they have done. The Alabama case involves rulings by federal courts.