Ohio’s federal congressional districts, previously deemed unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court but temporarily permitted in order to conduct the 2022 general election, will be used once again in 2024 following the court’s dismissal of lawsuits Thursday.
The cases were dismissed at the behest of the challengers, who indicate they dropped the suit not because they feel the maps are fair, but instead as a change in tactics as they respond to a shift in political leanings on the Ohio Supreme Court.
“We are focused now on two items: trying to get improved statehouse maps through redistricting commission hearings next week, as well as banning politicians and lobbyists from being able to draw maps in the future through a citizen-led constitutional amendment,” League of Women Voters of Ohio Director Jen Miller told the Dayton Daily News.
Over two years, the Ohio Supreme Court deemed congressional districts drawn by the Ohio General Assembly and the Ohio Redistricting Commission to be unconstitutional. But the swing vote on that was former Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who retired last year and was replaced by voters with fellow Republican Sharon Kennedy, who as a justice had ruled in support of the maps.
The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which, through a different but related decision on redistricting in North Carolina, vacated the Ohio Supreme Court’s previous opinion on congressional districts and sent the issue back down to the state to be reconsidered.
The congressional map, despite the court’s ruling that it was gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, was allowed to stick by a federal court in order to conduct the 2022 general election. Under current constitutional rules, the maps expire in 2026 because they lack support from Democrats in the General Assembly that would be required to enact a 10-year map under anti-gerrymandering reforms voters put in the Ohio Constitution.
“Following months of rancor from far left special interests, those same organizations decided it was no longer in their best interest to litigate after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the earlier 4-3 opinion under Ohio’s former chief justice,” said John Fortney, spokesperson for the Ohio Senate GOP caucus.
Fortney said he hopes the dismissal means Democrats will “rejoin good faith negotiations in the future and give the process approved by the voters a chance to work.”
The League of Women Voters wrote in their request to dismiss the case: “Ohioans have borne the considerable costs and frustration of years of districting disputes, with each round of map-drawing and litigation generating additional confusion and concern about the fairness of their representation.”
“After nearly two years of diligently pursuing this litigation, Petitioners have decided that it is not presently in the state’s best interests to continue pursuing relief in this manner,” they wrote.
However, the League still maintains its lawsuit against the state’s legislative districts, which were also repeatedly denied by O’Connor’s court.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission is set to meet next week in order to rejig the state’s legislative districts, which had been denied five times by O’Connor’s court. That meeting will occur at 10 a.m. on Sept. 13 in the Lobby Hearing Room of the Rhodes State Office Tower in Columbus.
Meanwhile a group led by O’Connor hopes to completely change the way Ohio draws its districts through a citizen-initiated amendment aimed for the November 2024 ballot. The amendment would create a citizen redistricting commission, which would take elected officials out of the redistricting process altogether.