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Court strikes down Ohio GOP's new district maps, calling them partisan 'by design'

The Republican chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court called on voters to oust the GOP-led districting commission in favor of a truly independent body.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that district maps drawn by Republicans in the state were illegally gerrymandered to benefit their party's candidates. The decision gives Ohio’s redistricting commission, which includes five Republicans and two Democrats, 10 days to redraw the maps. 

The court’s chief justice, Maureen O’Connor, sided with the three Democrats on the bench in striking down the maps. 

The majority’s ruling said Republicans on the commission, who approved the maps without Democratic support, defied laws in the state constitution prohibiting primarily partisan gerrymandering.

Last month, I reported on Ohio GOP leaders hiring to defend the state’s redistricting maps two conservative lawyers who previously defended gerrymandering. The hirings don't seem to be bearing the fruit those officials had hoped for.

The Ohio Constitution requires district maps to reflect the share of the statewide vote a party has received over the last decade. Republicans, for example, won around 54 percent of Ohio’s statewide vote over that time, but they drew maps that likely would’ve netted them around 66 percent of the state’s legislative seats. 

“We hold that the plan is invalid because the commission did not attempt to draw a plan that meets the proportionality standard,” Democratic Justice Melody Stewart wrote in the majority opinion. Republicans leading the commission “did not attempt to comply with the standards,” she said. 

O’Connor, a Republican, didn’t just concur. She issued her own blistering opinion supporting the majority and calling for voters to replace the current commission with an independent one:

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. 

While not free from their own vulnerabilities, independent redistricting commissions have become ‘the premier institutional solution to the problem of partisan gerrymandering’ because they increase the degree of separation between map-drawers and partisan politics.

They shift the power to redistrict away from partisan actors who have an incentive to gerrymander in order to maintain or expand their political power.

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