Supreme Court won’t hold state redistricting officials in contempt but tells them to draw 6th set of legislative maps

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

No members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission will be held in contempt for failing to draw new state House and Senate district maps, the Ohio Supreme Court announced Wednesday afternoon.

But the court also ordered redistricting commissioners back to work, telling them to try a sixth time and file maps for future elections by June 3.

In a separate Republican-backed case, a three-judge federal panel is expected to order the use of maps in an Aug. 2 primary for state House and Senate seats that have already been thrown out by the state supreme court as unconstitutional.

Those maps, however – the third set the redistricting commission passed – will only be valid for the 2022 election. If the redistricting commission eventually passes maps with bipartisan support, those new districts will remain in force for the next decade. Maps that pass with only one party’s support but are ruled constitutional would be in place for four years.

So far all five sets of maps the seven-member redistricting commission approved have passed with only Republican backing, though in the last two votes Auditor Keith Faber has joined the commission’s two Democratic members in opposition.

State legislative district maps have been in dispute for nine months. Each set of maps the commission passed since September faced immediate legal challenge from progressive and voting-rights groups, and the Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly agreed – holding 4-3 that each set of maps was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

Commissioners passed their third set of maps Feb. 24. The state supreme court threw them out March 16, but the federal panel signaled on April 20 it will impose their use for 2022. Those maps would ostensibly create 54 Republican and 45 Democratic House seats, with 18 Republican and 15 Democratic Senate seats. But of those, 19 House and seven Senate seats would lean Democratic by less than 4%, while no Republican districts would be that close.

Republican commissioners passed a cosmetically altered version of the same maps March 28, which the court threw out April 14, giving commissioners until May 6 to submit a fifth version.

Instead the commission, anticipating federal judges would order use of the third maps anyway, voted 4-3 to resubmit its third set of maps to the state supreme court.

That’s what the court threw out again Wednesday.

The court has held out for the standard of proportionality, meaning that legislative district maps should conform fairly closely to the state’s actual partisan lean of 54% Republican and 46% Democratic. Currently Republicans hold a supermajority in both the state House and Senate, and all Republican-approved map proposals would likely preserve outsized Republican majorities.

The Ohio General Assembly is expected to adjourn for the summer in early June. Before that, legislators need to officially set the date for state House and Senate primaries as Aug. 2. That’s the latest date county boards of election will be able to hold primaries and still prepare for the Nov. 8 general election, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is also a redistricting commission member.

LaRose’s testimony that the third set of maps was the only feasible one to use Aug. 2, due to county election boards already preparing to use them before those maps were thrown out, was key in the federal judges’ decision to impose the third maps for use this year.

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