A set of Ohio House and Senate district maps previously ruled unconstitutional remain invalid, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today. The Ohio Redistricting Commission is to be reconstituted to draft and adopt new General Assembly maps that meet the requirements of the Ohio Constitution.
In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the commission’s re-enactment of a plan called “Map 3”. The commission resubmitted the previously rejected map to the court on May 5, a day before the court’s deadline to adopt an all-new district plan consistent with the Ohio Constitution.
The Supreme Court today ordered the commission to file its new plan with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office by 9 a.m. June 3 and with the court by noon that day. The Court noted that “for cause,” the commission may request an extension of time to submit the new plan.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner joined in the curiam majority opinion.
In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice O’Connor, joined by Justice Donnelly, wrote that with assurances from the Federal Court that continued delay and inaction would be rewarded, the commission “engaged in a staggering rebuke to the rule of law” by re-adopting Map 3.
Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Patrick F. Fischer wrote separate dissenting opinions. Justice Kennedy said the court exceeded its limited power to review the commission’s maps. Judge R. Patrick DeWine joined in the opinion of Judge Kennedy. Judge Fischer wrote that the state constitution contains provisions when the bipartisan commission finds itself at an impasse and cannot agree on a map. He also argued that the Court never had the constitutional power to review the challenged commission plans.
Federal Court rules after the rejection of the fourth plan
The Court’s majority opinion noted that the Redistricting Commission submitted four district plans to the General Assembly between September 2021 and March 2022. The Court invalidated each of these plans because they did not conform to Article XI, Sections 6(A) and 6(B) of the Ohio Constitution. These provisions were included in a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2015 and were intended to reduce political gerrymandering so that maps do not disproportionately favor one political party.
On April 14, 2022, the Court rescinded the fourth set of district maps submitted by the commission and ordered the adoption of a new plan by May 6. As the Supreme Court considered objections to the commission’s fourth plan, a federal district court in Columbus heard a lawsuit from a group of Ohio voters who argued that the state’s failure to adopting new General Assembly districts infringed their right to vote.
On April 20, the Federal Court in its Gonidakis v. LaRose The decision stated that if the state did not adopt a new plan that complies with federal law by May 28, it would order that the primary election for the seats of the State House and Senate be moved to May 2. august. It would also order the state to use Map 3 for the 2022 election cycle. Map 3 is the third district plan the commission submitted to the Supreme Court, which was declared unconstitutional on March 16.
Resubmitted commission rejected Card
On May 5, the commission re-enacted Map 3, meant to be used only in the 2022 election. Opponents filed objections with the Supreme Court to the commission’s re-enactment and resubmission of Map 3. Commission members who voted to re-adopt Map 3 responded that it was the only viable option to use for the 2022 election.
“The fact remains that Map 3 still violates Article XI, Sections 6(A) and 6(B) of the Ohio Constitution,” the court said in today’s decision.
The Court ordered the commission to adopt maps that meet the requirements of the constitution. The commission’s ability to comply with the Court’s directive to produce a new plan has not been hampered by current election deadlines, the “inability or unwillingness” of the General Assembly to change election deadlines, or whether Map 3 was the only viable option to use in the 2022 election, the court said.
Obligation to adopt separate electoral planning maps
The court said the commission’s duty to adopt a constitutional district plan is “separate from considerations” regarding the feasibility of implementing that plan for the 2022 election. The court also said the commission no didn’t have the authority to adopt a map that would only apply to the 2022 election cycle. Under the constitution, the commission can adopt a map that will remain in effect for four years or 10 years, depending on whether it whether or not there is bipartisan support for the map.
The plan adopted by the commission on May 5 “is invalid in its entirety, including for the reason that the commission purports to limit its effectiveness to the 2022 elections only,” the court said.
Commission, legislature should fix problems, says competition
“This court has been placed in a remarkable position,” Chief Justice O’Connor wrote. By resubmitting an unconstitutional map, the commission “engaged in a staggering rebuke of the rule of law”, she said.
Chief Justice O’Connor noted in her agreement that the two Democratic commission members had requested that the commission meet to craft constitutionally compliant maps two days after the court ordered the creation and passage of new cards in April. But House Speaker Robert Cupp, the commission’s co-chair at the time, said the commission would not meet until after the federal court’s decision in Gonidakis then until after the primary elections of May 3. The commission only met on May 4, 20 days after the Supreme Court’s opinion, and two days before the deadline for filing a new plan.
“The Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Constitution should not be held hostage by a redistricting commission acting under partisan guidelines and a legislature that has created a crisis due to its own inaction,” a- she writes. “The remedy, then, should not be the endorsement of an unconstitutional card that rewards those who created the crisis to begin with. The remedy, instead, must be to engineer a manufactured resolution to the crisis by those with the power to do so – the commission and the legislature.
Court without power to reject the card, dissent upheld
Citing her previous dissents, Justice Kennedy argued that the majority continues to ignore the limits of the Court’s power to nullify the commission’s work. She wrote that Article XI, Section 9(D)(3) of the state constitution allows the Court to invalidate the district plan in whole or in part only if there is violation of the requirements imposed. to the commission by sections 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7. These provisions include objective map-drawing rules such as limiting the division of cities and counties, as well as ensuring that maps conform to the federal law. The majority today, she explained, invalidates the plan because it allegedly did not meet the requirements of the Section 6 repertoire. Justice Kennedy wrote that nothing in the constitution gives the Court the power to examine the map solely on the basis of a violation of Article 6.
“Today, the majority again declares this map unconstitutional, following its re-enactment. But the majority was wrong League III, and it is still untrue today,” she wrote.
Justice Kennedy wrote that voters supporting the 2015 Constitutional Amendment anticipated the commission’s potential partisanship, which is why the constitution provides for a deadlock procedure if members of the commission find themselves in an impasse: the result is a card that only stays in place for four years rather than ten. She wrote that since the people of Ohio did not anticipate the role that a majority of the Court has assigned itself in the redistricting, “there is no procedure [in the redistricting amendment] for when a wandering court comes to an impasse with the commission.
She added, “The people of Ohio need look no further than this court for the sole cause of the missing primary debacle.”
No authority for court to review four-year card, dissent maintains
In a separate dissent, Justice Fischer reiterated his position that under the procedures of Article XI, Section 8(C)(1)(a) of the constitution, the Supreme Court has no power to examine a four-year commission card. Map 3, along with the three other plans adopted by the commission, received only enough votes from the commission to be in effect for four years, Judge Fischer said.
He wrote that the majority created a “redistricting mess, and the people of Ohio will in all likelihood vote for state representatives in a special election imposed on that state by a panel of federal judges.”
2021-1193, 2021-1198 and 2021-1210. League of Women Voters of Ohio v. Ohio Redistricting Comm.Brief Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-1727.
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