The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday about challenges to a new congressional district map drawn by Republicans in the General Assembly and whether it violates a provision approved by the state’s voters to stop partisan gerrymandering.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill approving the map in November after it passed both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly, both under Republican control.
The state’s current House delegation includes 12 Republicans and four Democrats. Due to slow growth in Ohio's population, reflected in the 2020 census, the state will lose one House seat. The new map would create two Democratic-leaning districts, 11 Republican-leaning districts, and two competitive districts. Critics say the partisan split is too wide in a state where Republicans win approximately 54% of votes in statewide elections.
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Multiple lawsuits were filed to challenge the legality of the map, alleging it unfairly favors Republicans by divvying up Democratic votes around cities. But Republicans say the map creates more swing districts.
In May 2018, Ohio voters approved constitutional amendments calling for a “fair, bipartisan, and transparent” redistricting process that would “make politicians more accountable to the voters,” according to the ballot language. Democrats claimed the new map violated that requirement.
The Ohio Supreme Court has seven justices, with four leaning Republican and three leaning Democratic, but Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is considered a swing vote, and the map may be overturned. O'Connor appeared critical of the map during Tuesday’s oral arguments, which were virtual due to the pandemic.
Additionally, Justice Pat DeWine is the son of the governor who signed the bill into law, prompting some to call on him to recuse himself from the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio tweeted, “From start to finish, mapmakers shamefully defied voter expectations of having a transparent, bipartisan, and public process that resulted in congressional districts that serve voters — not politicians. Ohioans deserve better.”
In a November statement, Mike DeWine said the Legislature produced “a fair, compact, and competitive map.”
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The justices will issue their ruling at a later date.