Ohio Supreme Court Allows Gerrymandered Legislative Maps To Remain for 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, the Ohio Supreme Court’s 4-3 Republican majority dismissed a trio of lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative maps, leaving in place gerrymandered districts for 2024. 

Originally filed in September 2021 by pro-voting organizations, the lawsuits alleged that Ohio’s legislative maps drawn after the 2020 census were extreme partisan gerrymanders that favored Republicans in violation of the state constitution.  

Between January and May 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down five separate iterations of the legislative maps, each time ruling that the maps were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. Despite the state Supreme Court siding with the pro-voting groups on five separate occasions and requiring redraws of the maps, the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) failed to submit constitutionally compliant maps to the court. As a result, Ohioans voted under unconstitutional legislative maps during the 2022 midterm elections.  

In late September 2023 — 16 months after the court-imposed June 2022 deadline for passing a new set of maps — the ORC unanimously adopted a new set of legislative maps, which experts and advocates alike deemed “illegally gerrymandered” in favor of Republicans. The maps were enacted with bipartisan support, with two Democratic members of the ORC joining the Republican commissioners.

In response to the new maps, Equal Districts — a coalition of Ohio groups advocating for fair maps — wrote in a statement: “Despite five rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court calling for fair maps that reflect the 54% Republican – 46% Democratic partisanship of our state, the Commission unanimously adopted maps that relegate Democrats to just 35 (35%) safe seats in the House and 9 (27%) safe seats in the Senate.”

Following the ORC’s adoption of new legislative maps, the plaintiffs in the ongoing legislative redistricting lawsuits asked the Ohio Supreme Court for permission to file objections to the new maps. The groups argued that the maps still fail to comply with the Ohio Constitution’s prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, which was enshrined by Ohio voters in 2018.  

Meanwhile, in response to the groups’ request to object to the new maps, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) along with State Sen. Robert McColley (R) and Rep. Jeff LaRae (R) filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits and void the state Supreme Court’s five previous decisions striking down the legislative maps. 

In yesterday’s 4-3 opinion, the court’s Republican majority granted the secretary of state and the state legislators’ motions to dismiss, holding that “there is no longer an operative complaint before us that corresponds to the September 2023 plan adopted by the commission.” The majority added that because the ORC adopted the September 2023 maps with bipartisan support, the plan represents “a changed circumstance that makes it appropriate to relinquish our continuing jurisdiction over these cases.” 

“Our decision today means that these cases are not the appropriate vehicles for addressing challenges to the September 2023 plan,” the opinion concluded. 

Although the majority dismissed the cases, it declined to void the court’s five prior decisions striking down the state’s legislative maps for being unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.  

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Republican majority became more conservative following the retirement of the court’s former Republican chief justice, Maureen O’Connor, who five times voted with the Democratic justices to strike down the state’s legislative maps. In yesterday’s opinion, the court’s newest Republican justice, Joseph Deters, joined the majority. 

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Jennifer Brunner, who was joined by the court’s two other Democratic justices, staunchly disagreed with the majority’s decision to dismiss the lawsuits: 

It is illusory to suggest that a bipartisan vote to adopt the September 2023 plan constitutes a change in circumstances that somehow diminishes our review power or renders a unanimous redistricting plan constitutionally compliant…The majority’s decision amounts to a permission slip to ignore the constitution and is yet another disappointing milepost in this litigation.

As a result of yesterday’s dismissal, Ohio’s state House and state Senate districts that were unanimously adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission in late September will be used for the upcoming 2024 election. 

The districts will remain in place until 2031, barring the passage of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that would create an independent, citizen-led redistricting commission. If ultimately approved by voters, the measure would void the state’s existing redistricting plans — both congressional and legislative — and require them to be redrawn. 

The group behind the redistricting amendment, Citizens Not Politicians, has begun collecting signatures to place the proposal on the ballot in 2024. 

Read the opinion here.

Learn more about the cases here.