Voting rights groups celebrate Ohio Supreme Court ruling on maps

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 5:50 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Voting rights groups in Ohio are taking a quick victory lap. In a historic decision, The Ohio Supreme Court declared the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional.

“It’s just an incredible victory for all Ohioans and for our democracy in our state,” said Katy Shanahan, the state director of All On The Line Ohio.

The justices ruled 4-to-3 to throw out the maps Wednesday. They’re giving the Ohio Redistricting Commission 10 days to come up with new boundaries.

“In this case, we saw the will of the people prevail,” said Jeniece Brock, Vice-Chair of the Ohio Citizens’ Redistricting Commission. “The people got a ruling that ensures their voices will be heard.”

The justices cited statewide voter preferences in their decision to toss out the maps. In the past decade, Republicans won 54 percent of the vote in statewide races. But the maps adopted by the commission gave Republicans supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature.

Constitutional reforms passed in 2015 require the commission to draw maps that match up with statewide voter preferences. Republicans on the commission argued that duty was optional. The court disagreed.

“Ohio is the only state in the country that has a constitutional requirement for proportional representation in our state legislative districts,” Shanahan said. “We’re now the only state in the country where that provision has been enforced by a state supreme court. That is incredibly important. It says a lot about the strength of our reform measures and how perhaps we could improve them to be stronger in the future.”

The Supreme Court’s decision also won the praise of national political figures. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder helped fund one of the groups who filed the lawsuit with the state supreme court.

Holder called the ruling a “victory for fairness” in a tweet.

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has also lobbied for fair maps in recent months. He praised Michigan’s independent redistricting commission last month after it approved new maps.

He took to social media to agree with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who argued in her majority opinion that voters should consider adopting a similar commission in the future. O’Connor, a Republican, was the swing vote on the court that includes four Republicans and three Democrats.

The High Court still has to rule on Ohio’s newly-adopted congressional map. Groups challenging it say it sets up a 13-2 Republican advantage in Washington.

“We are hopeful that Ohioans will have a process and have maps that they voted for,” Brock said.

The new boundaries create a difficult path to re-election for Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), who is the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s previously criticized Ohio’s Republican-drawn congressional map. Wednesday, she called the court’s decision a “resounding victory for Ohio voters.”

“While we await a decision on Ohio’s Congressional maps, I urge the Redistricting Commission to follow the will of Ohio voters, get to work in a transparent and bipartisan manner, and deliver legislative maps that fairly represent the people and communities of our great state,” Kaptur said.

It’s unclear when the Ohio Redistricting Commission will meet to propose and review new maps. If the proposals have bipartisan approval, they will last for the next ten years. If not, they’ll only last for the next four years.

The deadline for candidates to file to run in the newly-drawn legislative districts is Feb. 2, which could potentially get pushed back while keeping the May 3 primary election date in place.

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