“When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins,” Justice Michael Donnelly wrote in the court’s 4-3 opinion.
Ohio Republicans have held a comfortable majority in the state delegation for the past decade or so. Yet their margins of victory have been growing smaller, leading to redistricting efforts that divide heavily-Democratic populations.
In 2011, for instance, Cincinnati’s Hamilton County was cut in two, with each half being absorbed by whiter, more rural districts. GOP lawmakers would have cut it into three parts had lawsuits from Democrats and voting rights groups not been successful Friday. More broadly, the map that Republicans approved would have handed them a 12-3 majority, while they currently hold 12 seats to Democrats’ 4. (Ohio will lose one congressional seat due to its decline in population.)
Critics argued the map violated a 2018 constitutional amendment banning partisan gerrymandering, and the court agreed.
“The General Assembly produced a plan that is infused with undue partisan bias and that is incomprehensibly more extremely biased than the 2011 plan that it replaced,” Donnelly wrote. It was so skewed, he noted, that it “defies correction on a simple district-by-district basis.”
Accordingly, the state legislature must now submit a new map within 30 days. If it can’t come up with a solution, the job goes to the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission, five of whom are Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine, who approved the gerrymandered map.
The partisan redistricting scheme also found an ally in DeWine’s son, who was one of the three judges in the court’s minority.