Missed deadline or not, new U.S. House map for Ohio not coming soon

On July 19, the Ohio Supreme Court gave legislators 30 days to pass a new Congressional district map, to replace the one justices had just thrown out for the third time as unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

Those 30 days have passed, which should throw the task of drawing districts for the 2024 election cycle back to the Ohio Redistricting Commission. But Republicans, who control five of that commission’s seven seats assert that no action is needed until at least Nov. 16 – and perhaps long after that.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, laid out the argument in an Aug. 17 letter to Republican House members that he also released to media.

He called the Aug. 19 deadline a “myth,” saying the Ohio Constitution doesn’t require the clock to start on a new Congressional map until “all appeals are final.”

The state Supreme Court’s decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the deadline for any party to file such an appeal would be Oct. 17, Cupp wrote.

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“So, there is no state constitutional requirement to draw new congressional districts for the 2024 election cycle before then,” his letter says. “In the event the appeal is not accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the General Assembly has 30 days after that decision to pass a new congressional district map plan under Article XIX of the Ohio Constitution approved by voters in 2018.”

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, dismissed Cupp’s argument Thursday as a dodge to avoid tackling the issue.

“The Ohio Supreme Court is simply doing its job and interpreting the Ohio Constitution,” Yuko said. “Republicans just don’t like what it has to say and are looking for another way to hold on to their power. It’s time for us to do our job, follow the law and adopt fair, constitutional congressional maps, like the voters have demanded.”

In accordance with 2020 census results, Ohio must reduce its U.S. House seats from 16 to 15. Currently Ohio is represented by 12 Republicans and four Democrats.

In its July 19 rejection of the most recent map, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the General Assembly to pass a new map within 30 days. But legislators didn’t even take up the matter before recessing for the summer, expecting to reconvene after the Nov. 8 general election.

If the General Assembly didn’t act, justices said, the Ohio Redistricting Commission would have 30 more days to pass another map.

No new commission meetings have been scheduled.

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All three Congressional district maps the court has so far rejected were approved with only Republican support. A map passed with single-party support, even if upheld by the court, must be redrawn in four years. A map supported by both parties would be valid until the election after the next U.S. census in 2030.

Justices did allow the rejected map to be used for the May 3 partisan primary, meaning it will also remain in place for the Nov. 8 general election but not for the 2024 election cycle.

The now-overturned map would ostensibly create 10 Republican-leaning and five Democratic-leaning seats. But three of the Democratic-leaning seats only do so by less than 5%, while none of the Republican-leaning districts do so by less than 6.64%, according to the breakdown mapmakers distributed.

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