This decision preserves the status quo, leaving in place a congressional map that the Ohio Supreme Court previously struck down for being a partisan gerrymander. Ohioans voted under this map during the 2022 elections and will again vote under it in 2024.
Nevertheless, the pro-voting groups behind the lawsuits — who requested that the court dismiss their cases — maintain that “this is the best result under the circumstances for the people of Ohio who deserve certainty about the congressional map that they will be voting under in this cycle, at the very least.” In other words, Ohio Republicans will not have the opportunity to further gerrymander the state’s congressional map before 2024.
Today’s dismissal puts an end to nearly two years of litigation over Ohio’s congressional map.
Beginning back in November 2021, pro-voting groups filed lawsuits over the congressional map drawn after the 2020 census, alleging that it was an extreme partisan gerrymander that unduly favored Republicans. The lawsuits argued that the map violated the Ohio Constitution’s voter-approved anti-gerrymandering provision enacted in 2018. The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs and issued a 4-3 decision striking down the map.
Following this ruling, the Legislature failed to pass a new map, at which point the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) — a partisan entity made up of primarily Republican statewide elected officials and legislative leaders — took over the map-drawing process and enacted a revised map in March 2022. The commission’s revised map was only marginally different from the original map and once again appeared to flagrantly violate the state constitution, leading voting rights groups to once again bring lawsuits against the new map.
In another 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court held that the revised map — as with the original map — unfairly favors the Republican Party and runs afoul of the Ohio Constitution. In turn, the court ordered the Legislature to enact a remedial congressional map for the 2024 elections.
Republican legislators took the map all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Instead of fulfilling their duty to draw a new, fairer map, Ohio Republican legislators asked the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt the fringe independent state legislature (ISL) theory and reverse the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision striking down the map. In raising the ISL theory, the Republican petitioners argued that the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants state legislatures the sole authority to regulate federal elections and enact congressional maps, free from state court judicial review and state constitutional constraints.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to endorse the radical ISL theory in Moore v. Harper, it vacated the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision that struck down the ORC’s revised March 2022 congressional map and sent the case back to the Ohio Supreme Court for further proceedings in light of Moore.
After the map again ended up in the Ohio Supreme Court, the pro-voting groups sought to dismiss their cases.
After the Ohio Supreme Court reopened proceedings last month, the plaintiffs in both cases asked the court to dismiss their lawsuits, arguing that leaving the March 2022 congressional map in place for the 2024 election cycle would be the best case scenario for Ohioans.
With today’s order granting the plaintiffs’ requests, the congressional map will no longer be before the Ohio Supreme Court, which became markedly more conservative this year with the retirement of the court’s former Republican chief justice, Maureen O’Connor. O’Connor twice voted with the Democratic justices to strike down the state’s congressional map.
Ohio voters are looking to enact reforms that will ensure fairer maps after 2024.
Against the backdrop of a fraught congressional redistricting saga, pro-democracy groups in Ohio have commenced an effort to place a new redistricting reform on the ballot in 2024. In hopes of rectifying the shortcomings of the state’s 2018 redistricting amendment — which currently tasks partisan elected officials and lawmakers with congressional map-drawing — the pro-voting groups’ proposed amendment would create a 15-member citizen-led redistricting commission. The commission would be composed of an equal number of registered Republicans, Democrats and independents in order to insulate the redistricting process from those who stand to reap partisan gains.
The amendment, if cleared to be placed on the ballot and ultimately approved by Ohio voters in November 2024, would not overhaul the state’s redistricting process until after the 2024 election cycle. Nevertheless, those championing the measure are optimistic that effectuating substantive changes to Ohio’s redistricting process would lead to fairer maps in the future.
Earlier this week, the pro-voting groups submitted new summary language for the amendment to the Ohio attorney general. Regardless of whether these reforms are ultimately enacted in 2024, the state will have to enact a new congressional map for the 2026 election cycle because the original map was passed by a simple majority of the Legislature.