Democrats’ challenge to Ohio’s new congressional map reaches high court

On Tuesday, justices of the Ohio Supreme Court argued the question of whether Ohio’s new congressional map was gerrymandered unconstitutionally to favor Republicans. The Republican Party had been in control of the map redrawing process. 

Two lawsuits had been filed as a challenge to the new 4-year map showing boundaries for 15 U.S. House districts. Oral arguments in the cases were pushed online as a result of the COVID-19 surge taking place in the state.

Justices questioned how the lines were fair to Democrats and minority voters and why opponents to the new districts should prove the gerrymandering “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The also asked whether the voters’ decision to overhaul the state’s redistricting procedures with a constitutional amendment overruled legal arguments that arose during the battle over the state’s current map, which was drawn in 2011.

“Why would we use that as the starting point, the 2011 map, when clearly the intervening factor was the vote of the people that demanded that you scrap that kind of analysis and you go with, (that) your guidepost is not to unduly gerrymander the elective maps?” questioned Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. Chief Justice O’Connor has been identified by some as a potentially key swing vote in the battle.

The Republican legislature sees no issue with the way the maps were drawn. Attorney for Republican legislative leaders, Phillip Strach, said Ohio residents wanted districts that were less partisan, “and that’s absolutely what they got.”

Strach added, “The districts are a win for the people of Ohio,” he said. “They got more competitive districts. Seven out of 15 – that’s a plurality of the districts – are now legit competitive districts, even the experts agree.” According to Strach, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown would have won eight or nine of the newly drawn districts.” 

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