Ohio Supreme Court shows North Carolina the way in the fight against gerrymandering

Published January 13, 2022

By Rob Schofield

If you get a chance, be sure to check out this morning’s story from reporter Susan Tebben of our fellow States Newsroom outlet, the Ohio Capital-Journal, detailing yesterday’s ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court striking down a set of gerrymandered legislative maps.

As Tebben reports, the court sided with challengers and directed that new maps be drawn within ten days:

In a ruling released Wednesday afternoon, the Supreme Court announced a 4-3 decision, saying the Ohio Redistricting Commission “did not attempt to meet the standards set forth” in the legislative redistricting process of the Ohio Constitution. The majority included Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, often considered a swing vote on the decision.

“Having now seen firsthand that the current Ohio Redistricting Commission … is seemingly unwilling to put aside partisan concerns as directed by the people’s vote, Ohioans may opt to pursue further constitutional amendment to replace the current commission with a truly independent, nonpartisan commission that more effectively distances the redistricting process from partisan politics,” O’Connor wrote in her own opinion supporting invalidating the maps.

In response to the ruling, Alicia Bannon, Director of the Judiciary Program at the Brennan Center for Justiceoffered this assessment:

“Today the Ohio Supreme Court held the Ohio Redistricting Commission accountable to the constitution. The General Assembly maps entrenched a GOP supermajority and flouted clear partisan fairness requirements in the Ohio constitution – abuses that especially impacted Ohio’s Black, Muslim and immigrant communities. The commission is now tasked with drawing replacement maps. We will be watching to ensure that all Ohioans get the fair representation they are due.”

While Ohio’s process is somewhat different from North Carolina’s, at their core, the disputes in the two states are essentially indistinguishable. At issue is whether it is constitutional for those overseeing redistricting to rig maps so as to guarantee victory for a particular political party while effectively disenfranchising a large swath of the population — in particular people racial and religious minorities who have long been the targets of discrimination.

Indeed, North Carolina’s all-purpose GOP gerrymandering defense attorney, Phil Strach, argued for the losing side in Ohio.

This is from Tebben’s report:

"The majority opinion also emphasized that the supreme court has the authority over the maps, should they need to oversee the process again. It also pushed back on an argument made by a few people during the public hearing process and from legislative leaders that partisan majority can be fixed by voting out those in the majority.

“The suggestion that the solution to unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering is simply to vote out its perpetrators is disingenuous,” the court wrote. “Partisan gerrymandering entrenches the party in power.”

“The suggestion that the solution to unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering is simply to vote out its perpetrators is disingenuous,” the court wrote. “Partisan gerrymandering entrenches the party in power.”

Let’s fervently hope that the seven justices of North Carolina’s Supreme Court are inspired by this example as they go about reviewing the latest rigged maps in North Carolina over the coming weeks. As an on-the-mark Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial for WRAL.com put it this morning:

"It is an essential element of a representative democracy in our state to assure every North Carolinian has a voice in their elected representative branches of government.

"There is no doubt that these gerrymandered congressional and legislative district maps only look to give one political party a permanent strangle-hold on governmental power.

"The North Carolina Supreme Court must uphold that the power resides in the people of North Carolina and not a self-perpetuating permanent majority in the legislature.

"It must overturn this ruling, declare the maps unconstitutional and should appoint four former state Supreme Court justices – two Republicans and two Democrats – to draw the new lines."