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Ohio Redistricting Litigation: Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. Ohio Redistricting Commission (Ohio Supreme Court); Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. LaRose (Southern District of Ohio)

The Brennan Center and co-counsel filed suit in the Supreme Court of Ohio on behalf of several community groups and Ohio voters challenging the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s extreme partisan gerrymander of the state’s legislative maps. We have also intervened in a federal lawsuit where right-wing activists have asked the court to disregard the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling.

Published: September 24, 2021

On Septem­ber 16, 2021, just after midnight, the Ohio Redis­­trict­ing Commis­­­sion voted 5–2 on party lines to adopt a district plan designed to entrench a 3/5 veto-proof Repub­­lican super­­ma­­jor­ity in both cham­bers of the Ohio General Assembly for the next four years. In doing so, the commis­­­sion ignored a consti­tu­­tional amend­­ment over­­whelm­ingly passed by Ohio voters in 2015 that bans partisan gerry­­­man­der­­ing, requir­ing that the commis­­­sion refrain from draw­ing districts primar­ily to favor or disfa­­vor a polit­ical party and adopt a district plan under which the number of districts favor­ing each party is propor­­tional to the statewide pref­er­­ences of voters. The plan enacted by the commis­­­sion espe­­cially harms and burdens the state’s fast-grow­ing communit­ies of color.

On Septem­ber 27, the Bren­nan Center and co-coun­­sel Reed Smith LLP filed a complaint in the Supreme Court of Ohio, chal­len­­ging the commis­­­sion’s newly enacted district plan on behalf of a diverse coali­­tion of community groups and civic lead­ers who organ­­ize around or are a part of the communit­ies of color that stand to lose the most under this gerry­­­mandered map. The suing parties (who are called Peti­tion­ers) alleged that the enacted plan is a severe partisan gerry­­­mander in viol­­a­­tion of numer­­ous provi­­sions of the Ohio Consti­tu­­tion, includ­ing the recently-enacted partisan fair­­ness provi­­sions, the Equal Protec­­tion and Bene­fit Clause, and the Free­­dom of Speech and Asso­­ci­a­tion Clauses. The Peti­tion­ers asked the Court to block use of the enacted plan and order the creation of fair maps.

The Peti­tion­ers are the Ohio Organ­­iz­ing Collab­or­at­ive; the Coun­­­cil on Amer­­ican-Islamic Rela­­tions, Ohio; the Ohio Envir­on­­mental Coun­­­cil; and six indi­vidual Ohio voters: Pier­­rette Talley, Samuel Gresham Jr., Ahmad Aboukar, Mikayla Lee, Pren­­­tiss Haney, and Crys­tal Bryant, who live in differ­­ent parts of the state impacted by gerry­­­mandered maps.

The district plan is also being chal­lenged in two other cases before the Supreme Court of Ohio: (1) League of Women Voters of Ohio v. Ohio Redis­­trict­ing Commis­­­sion (Case No. 2021–1193); and (2) Bennett v. Ohio Redis­­trict­ing Commis­­­sion (Case No. 2021–1198).

The Court heard oral argu­­ment in this case in early Decem­ber 2021. On Janu­ary 12, 2022, a 4–3 major­ity of the Court inval­id­ated the commis­sion’s new legis­lat­ive maps, uphold­ing the partisan fair­ness and propor­tion­al­ity provi­sions of the Ohio Consti­tu­tion and declin­ing to rule on other claims. The Court remanded and ordered the commis­sion to adopt a new set of maps.

Since mid-Janu­ary, the commis­sion has adop­ted a number of revised maps. Each time, the Peti­tion­ers objec­ted to the contin­ued gerry­mandered plans and the Ohio Supreme Court has struck down each attempt. Briefly, the commis­sion enacted a revised plan on Janu­ary 22, 2022 (struck down on Febru­ary 7); the commis­sion enacted another plan on Febru­ary 24 (struck down on March 16); and it passed a third on March 28, 2022 (struck down on April 14). The commis­sion now has until May 6, 2022 to produce a consti­tu­tional plan.

Gonida­kis v. LaRose (federal court)

During the ongo­ing remedial efforts, right-wing activ­ists filed a case in federal court. This case, Gonida­kis v. Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion (Case No. 2:22-cv-00773-ALM-ART-BJB), is now pending in the South­ern District of Ohio before a panel of three judges. The Gonida­kis plaintiffs that filed the case claim that the commis­sion has reached impasse and that the federal court should step in and impose one of the uncon­sti­tu­tional plans that the Ohio Supreme Court inval­id­ated.

The Bren­nan Center and co-coun­sel from Reed Smith LLP and Miller Canfield filed a motion to inter­vene on behalf of our clients. This motion was gran­ted offi­cially making the Ohio Organ­iz­ing Collab­or­at­ive et al. inter­venor-plaintiffs in the case.

On March 30, 2022, the federal court held a hear­ing where it estab­lished that it would only get involved as a matter of last resort. The judges determ­ined that August 2 would be the most prac­tic­able date for a primary elec­tion and, as a result, maps must be in place by April 20 to give enough time for Ohio elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors to prepare. Having estab­lished this timeline, the trial court instruc­ted all parties to submit their proposed remedy should the federal court need to impose maps.

On April 20, 2022, the federal court announced that it would not inter­vene in the state’s redis­trict­ing process until May 28. If the commis­sion or state court fail to adopt a new plan by that date, the federal court intends to impose a map previ­ously inval­id­ated by the trial court as a partisan gerry­mander in viol­a­tion of the state consti­tu­tion.

Docu­ments

Ohio Supreme Court

Original Plan

Second Plan

Third Plan

Fourth Plan

Re-Submis­sion of Third Plan

District Court

Juris­dic­tion Stage

Merits Stage

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