The Redistricting Commission in Ohio was created by an amendment to the Ohio Constitution, which was approved by 71% of Ohio voters in November 2015. Voters thought they were ending partisan gerrymandering. They were wrong.
The Redistricting Commission was fatally flawed in its design.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission is comprised of seven members:
- One individual appointed by the Senate President
- One individual appointed by the Speaker of the House
- One individual appointed by the Senate Minority Leader
- One individual appointed by the House Minority Leader
- The Governor
- The Auditor
- The Secretary of State
In Ohio, this created a 5-2 Republican advantage on the Redistricting Commission, which resulted in extreme Republican gerrymandering in defiance of the constitutional amendment and the will of the voters who approved ending partisan gerrymandering.
In February, The commission rejected the plan put forth by Democratic commissioners and adjourned without Republican commissioners proposing a new set of state House and Senate district maps. (excerpt):
The commission had until midnight Thursday to come up with House and Senate maps that meet constitutional guidelines. The Ohio Supreme Court set that deadline, and ordered maps to be delivered to justices Friday morning.
Since September, the commissioners have passed two sets of state legislative district maps and both times those maps have been found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Those maps passed on a 5-2 vote with support only from the commission’a majority Republicans.
But the commission did not follow the court order. Instead, the Ohio Redistricting Commission adjourned with about seven hours left before the court’s deadline.
Democratic members of the commission chided Republicans for failing to respond to the court order.
“This is a direct assault on our democracy and Ohio voters. And if we do not respect the legitimacy of the courts, then we are disrespecting the rule of law,” says House Minority Caucus Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington).
But Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) made the argument that it’s not possible to follow the court’s ruling on drawing new maps.
“I don’t believe the commission is able to ascertain a General Assembly district plan in conformity with the provisions of the Ohio Constitution and Ohio state law, nor with the federal constitution,” says Huffman.
[T]here have been suggestions that the court has the ability to hold the commission accountable, such as holding members in contempt of court.
Fair district advocates who have been plaintiffs in the court challenges say they are reviewing their options.
As you might imagine, there was yet another lawsuit filed, this time in federal district court.
On Friday, a three judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Easter Division, overruled the Ohio Supreme Court and sided with the Republicans who defied the constitutional amendment and the will of the voters who approved ending partisan gerrymandering.
The Ohio District Court effectively rewarded lawless Republicans for their defiance of the fair districts constitutional amendment and defiance of lawful court orders. Federal Judges Overrule Ohio Supreme Court: Mandate Voided Voting Map:
A federal court panel on Friday ordered Ohio to hold an Aug. 2 primary using the third set of Statehouse maps approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, despite [being held unconstitutional] by the state’s high court.
The court acted after giving Ohio a Saturday deadline to come up with a new map for legislative districts, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio said in its ruling.
That deadline will be missed, as the GOP-controlled commission did not schedule any meetings [again in defiance of a lawful court order.]
“We recognized from the outset that choosing a remedy would be challenging,” Circuit Judge Amul Thapar said in the 2-1 majority opinion.
“And between the standoff among state officials and the delay in getting the case, our options were limited,” Thapar wrote. “So we chose the best of our bad options.”
The federal court’s decision came in a lawsuit brought by a group of Republican voters that initially sought to salvage legislative primaries scheduled for May 3 by using the commission’s third set of district lines, which also was found unconstitutional.
BREAKING: Federal court orders Ohio to implement state legislative district maps that were ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court pic.twitter.com/HM6aKjDufj
— Andy Chow (@andy_chow) May 27, 2022
Friday’s ruling was a victory for that GOP group, as well as for the Republican-dominated redistricting commission, which passed five straight sets of legislative maps that couldn’t meet constitutional muster.
A directive to the state’s 88 elections board regarding the primary will be sent Saturday, said Rob Nichols, spokesperson for Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s elections chief and a member of the redistricting commission.
Judge Azul R. Thapar, a Trump appointee, and Judge Benjamin J. Beaton, also a Trump appointee, were in the majority and rewarded Ohio Republicans for their lawlessness. Republicans packed the federal courts with partisan activist judges to endorse their lawlessness and give their actions the imprimatur of legality. It is rank corruption.
I am reminded of Al Pacino in the classic scene form “And Justice For All” – “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”
Chief Judge Algenon Marbley [a Clinton appointee] dissented in Friday’s ruling, pointing out that the state Supreme Court reiterated this week that the third map remains unconstitutional.
The best option remained the map drawn by two experts, one selected by Republicans, one by Democrats, Marbley said.
The two men — Douglas Johnson, president of National Demographics Corporation, and Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor — were nearly finished when the commission suddenly set aside their work and passed a different map. The two had been paid $450 an hour for the previous four days to draw new maps in work viewed step-by-step online.
Ohio’s map fight comes amid the once-per-decade political mapmaking process that all states must undertake to reflect population changes from the census.A combination of Republican foot-dragging and legal wrangling has extended redistricting well into the 2022 election season and stymied Ohio’s legislative primaries. Maps were supposed to be completed last fall.
A 2015 constitutional amendment, passed overwhelmingly by voters, required the commission to at least attempt to avoid partisan favoritism and to try to proportionally distribute districts to reflect Ohio’s political makeup, which is split at about 54% Republican, 46% Democrat.
Republican commissioners have argued the set of maps they resubmitted to the court most recently met those requirements. By GOP calculations, the boundaries would create a 54-45 Republican majority in the Ohio House and an 18-15 Republican majority in Ohio Senate. Democrats have challenged their numbers, saying many districts counted in Democrats’ column are very closely divided.
Both LaRose and the association representing election officials in Ohio’s 88 counties, who administer elections, previously said they wanted the legislative primaries to be held Aug. 2.
The court’s Friday decision was disappointing, said state Sen. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat and redistricting commission co-chair. But he noted the ruling only affects elections this year.
“The Ohio Redistricting Commission still has the responsibility to draw fair, constitutional maps for the rest of the decade and I will continue to work toward that goal,” Sykes said.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), who is running for reelection in November, similarly gave lip service to fair districts earlier this year: “We have an obligation to follow the Ohio Constitution. We have an obligation to follow the court order — whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not. And three, we have an obligation to produce a map.” Actions speak louder than words governor.
Republicans got what they wanted by defying the state constitution, the voters of Ohio, and the courts. Unless Ohioans hold them accountable by kicking them out of office, lawless Republicans will only cement their ill-gotten gains in the future. There must be consequences.
The Trump appointed judges who rewarded such Republican lawlessness should be impeached and removed from the bench. (I said should … yes, I know this will never happen.)