The Ohio Redistricting Commission has been ordered back to the drawing board once again after the Ohio Supreme Court nixed the fifth set of state legislature maps on Wednesday.
The court, which determined the maps were nearly identical to the prior ones that had been stricken and amounted to unconstitutional gerrymandering, ordered new maps to be drawn by June 3, as Ohioans wait for a federal panel to intervene in the line-drawing legal scrum.
OHIO SUPREME COURT THROWS OUT FOURTH SET OF STATE MAPS
"This court has been placed in a remarkable position," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote in the opinion. "Ohio Redistricting Commission has, contrary to this court's clear order, resubmitted an unconstitutional General Assembly–district plan and, in doing so, has engaged in a stunning rebuke of the rule of law."
O'Connor, a Republican justice, joined her liberal colleagues in the 4–3 decision to strike down the maps, as she has done with prior GOP-friendly redistricting maps she deems unconstitutional. The court has relied on the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment, which imposes rules to curb gerrymandering and was approved by voters in 2015, as the basis for its legal rationale to nix the maps.
The skirmish between the high court and the commission prompted the state to postpone its primary date for state House and state Senate races due to the impasse. Primary elections were supposed to have taken place on May 3 alongside the congressional primaries but have been kicked to Aug. 2. Meanwhile, a panel of three federal judges has eyed the stalemate and appears poised to enact GOP-friendly state legislature maps similar to the ones the state court has routinely rejected.
The panel includes Judge Amul Thapar of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Benjamin Beaton of the District Court of the Western District of Kentucky, and Judge Algenon Marbley of the District Court of the Southern District of Ohio. They gave the state until May 28 to resolve the stalemate. Two of those judges, Thapar and Beaton, signaled last month they would select a slate of maps approved by the commission on Feb. 24, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. If the federal court intervenes, its enacted map would only apply to the 2022 elections, the outlet reported.
Despite scolding the commission, the state Supreme Court declined to hold members of the commission in contempt for their failure to comply with court orders. The court denied a motion on Wednesday to hold Republican members in contempt of court, noting the U.S. Supreme Court has "strongly cautioned courts against sanctioning individual legislators," reported Karen Kasler, Ohio Statehouse bureau chief at Ideastream.
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With the May 28 deadline looming, the 5-to-2 Republican-dominated commission has seemingly run out the clock. In addition to likely federal court intervention, the composition of the high court is also expected to change by the end of the year. O'Connor will be retiring due to age limits. Because O'Connor has served as a swing vote against GOP-friendly maps, her departure could mean the court will become more friendly to Republicans, who hope to maintain their map for congressional races.
The high court has stricken several iterations of the commission's congressional maps but announced in March it would not weigh in on the most recent congressional apportionment until after the May 3 primaries. Similar to the state maps, the congressional map closely mirrored prior maps that the court had tossed out. But if the court revisits the matter after O'Connor's departure, Republicans may eke out a win.