State of Ohio

Ohio Legislative Redistricting Challenge (Bennett)

Bennett v. Ohio Redistricting Commission

Lawsuit filed in the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of multiple voters challenging the state’s new General Assembly maps drawn with 2020 census data. The complaint argues that the new maps are drawn to lock in Republican veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature and are partisan gerrymanders in violation of the Ohio Constitution. The suit asks the court to declare the new maps invalid and order the creation of fair maps.

The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the first set of maps, holding that they were partisan gerrymanders that violated the Ohio Constitution. The court ordered the Commission to adopt new plans that comply with the state constitution, which were then also struck down by the court for failing to comply with the constitution. The Commission’s third set and fourth of plans were similarly struck down by the state Supreme Court. For its fifth try, the Commission resubmitted the third set of plans (which the Ohio Supreme Court already struck down). Unsurprisingly, the court also blocked these maps and ordered the Commission to submit a sixth set of maps by June 3, which it failed to do.

Oral argument for this case and two related cases was held on Dec. 8, 2021.

During oral argument, the relators attack the maps for violating the Ohio Constitution: Freda Levenson, an ACLU lawyer representing the League of Women Voters of Ohio plaintiffs, argued that the Commission did not follow the mandatory guidelines laid out in Article XI. Brian Sutherland argued on behalf of the Ohio Organizing Committee plaintiffs and presented arguments on Section 3. He argued that the new legislative maps violate provisions of the Ohio Constitution guaranteeing equal protection, freedom of association and freedom of speech. Ben Stafford, representing the Bennett plaintiffs, argued that the maps violate the Ohio Constitution by failing to comply with the ban on partisan gerrymandering. All the relators emphasized that the amendment banning partisan gerrymandering is mandatory and not “aspirational.”

The Republicans defend their actions: Phillip Strach argued on behalf of the Republican legislators on the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Robert Cupp. He said that the commissioners complied with the Ohio Constitution and that Section 6 is not mandatory and not applicable to a four-year map. Erik Clark defended the Ohio Redistricting Commission at oral argument. He argued, similar to the Republican legislators, that Article XI only requires an “attempt” and the court only has jurisdiction to hear violations of neutral redistricting principles.

State Supreme Court justices question Republicans: Multiple justices brought up that statewide elected officials Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) had issues with the obvious partisan lean of the map. Strach responded that what individuals might have said about their vote was “legally irrelevant.” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor also took issue with the Commission’s analysis that Republicans should have up to 81% of the vote share, pointing out that “There is no equivalent representation of all other parties, there is no accounting for their vote when you go to 81-19 in each one of those offices…You are not accounting for the votes cast for the other candidates.” In response, Strach said that “the commission did the best job they could under the circumstances they had. Drawing districts and plans like this is hard work.” Chief Justice O’Connor also asked Strach about steps forward if the court does strike down the maps and order the Commission to draft new maps.

The court orders additional briefing after oral argument: On Monday, Dec. 13, the court asked the parties to submit additional briefing about their authority to grant relief “​​when the Ohio Redistricting Commission adopted the district plan by a simple majority vote of the commission.”

Case Documents

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