A Good News, Anti-Gerrymandering, Republican-Dick-Kicking, Ohio Supreme Court Opinion? We'll Take Two!
Yesterday the Ohio Supreme Court tossed out the newly drafted state legislative maps for violating the Ohio Constitution's ban on partisan gerrymandering. Today, the Court followed it up by tossing out the US House map, too. Safe to say that the Ohio Supreme Court, including Republican appointee Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who crossed the aisle again to side with her Democratically appointed colleagues, has had it up to here with Republican legislators and their bullshit.
"Gerrymandering is the antithetical perversion of representative democracy," wrote Justice Michael Donnelly for the majority. "It is an abuse of power — by whichever political party has control to draw geographic boundaries for elected state and congressional offices and engages in that practice — that strategically exaggerates the power of voters who tend to support the favored party while diminishing the power of voters who tend to support the disfavored party. Its singular allure is that it locks in the controlling party’s political power while locking out any other party or executive office from serving as a check and balance to power."
In 2015, Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment banning political gerrymandering in state legislative districts, and in 2018 they passed an amendment unrigging congressional districts. The new maps were supposed to be drawn up by a Redistricting Commission, with two votes from each of the major parties to pass a map. If that didn't happen — and don't faint, but it didn't — the legislature was supposed to draw the maps with the provisos that the districts be compact, that they respect municipal boundaries, and that "The general assembly shall not pass a plan that unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents."
The Republican-dominated Assembly, itself a product of aggressive gerrymandering, proceeded to pass maps that were even more rigged than the 2011 version. (And the 2011 version was real rigged.) They cracked Cincinnati in three, packed Columbus and Cleveland, cracked the Cleveland suburbs, and hived off Akron's Democratic-leaning suburbs, connecting them to a rural Republican district by a “long, narrow north-south corridor that is, in one spot, less than one mile wide.”
In short, it wasn't subtle, "whether viewed through the lens of expert statistical analysis or by application of simple common sense."
Speaker of the House Robert Cupp and Senate President Matthew Huffman defended the maps, which passed on party lines, saying that they simply had to draw the maps that way, because the law's prohibition on partisan gerrymanders forced them to draw "competitive" seats. Only they define a "competitive” election as "one in which a candidate is expected to obtain 50 percent of the vote, plus or minus 4 percent, resulting in up to an 8-point spread between the winning and losing candidates."
You don't have to be Dave Wasserman to know that a reliably 54 to 46 district is in no wise "competitive." And not for nothing, but the law says the districts have to be drawn for compactness; the word "competitive" appears nowhere in the statute.
As multiple expert witnesses demonstrated, under the GOP's map, the very best case scenario for Democrats was holding on to three of the state's 15 House seats, even if they managed to get 47 percent of the vote. It was a gross violation of both the letter of the law and the intent of the voters.
"The evidence overwhelmingly shows that the enacted plan favors the Republican Party and disfavors the Democratic Party to a degree far exceeding what is warranted by Article XIX’s line-drawing requirements and Ohio’s political geography," the court wrote, adding later that, "Contrary to what Senate President Huffman and House Speaker Cupp argue, Ohio voters intended that the anti-gerrymandering requirements in Article XIX, Section 1(C)(3) have teeth."
Over the strenuous dissent of the minority justices, one of whom just so happens to be named DeWine, the court tossed the maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
"When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins," the court noted acidly. "That perhaps explains how a party that generally musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation. By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up."
"This is not what Ohio voters wanted or expected when they approved Article XIX as a means to end partisan gerrymandering in Ohio for good," the court concluded, before ordering to the legislators to quit breaking the law and go draw a real map. "The time has now come for the General Assembly to faithfully discharge the constitutional responsibilities imposed by Article XIX and by oath of office."
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.