COLUMBUS, Ohio — A frustrated Ohio Supreme Court rejected Republican-drawn Statehouse maps for a fifth time Wednesday, extending the string of GOP defeats in a process that has ground the state's legislative primaries to a halt.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor was clearly angered by the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission’s decision to resubmit maps that the high court already found unconstitutional, calling it “a stunning rebuke of the rule of law.”
The court ordered the panel to reconvene and pass constitutional maps. The legal wrangling over the maps comes amid the once-per-decade redistricting process that all states must undertake to reflect population changes from the U.S. Census.
The state’s new redistricting process is essentially being written as it’s carried out. A combination of Republican foot-dragging and legal wrangling has extended redistricting well into the 2022 election season and stymied Ohio’s legislative primaries entirely. The process was intended to be completed last fall.
O'Connor, a Republican, also faulted a separate, federal three-judge panel for rewarding the commission's inaction. The federal panel had signaled they will impose the rejected map this Friday if the state cases aren't resolved by then.
“The federal court provided the Republican commission members not only a roadmap of how to avoid discharging their duties but also a green light to further delay these proceedings" by stating its intentions, she wrote.
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.
Republicans have argued the set of maps they resubmitted met those requirements.
O’Connor, who must leave the court Dec. 31 due to age limits, again provided a pivotal swing vote in Wednesday's ruling, joining the court’s three Democrats in a victory for national voting-rights and Democratic groups. O’Connor had joined Democrats in court rulings against the first four sets of legislative maps and against the state’s congressional district map.