Ohio Redistricting Commission Stalls on Congressional Map Redraw, Amid Legal Ambiguity and Jurisdictional Debate

The Ohio Redistricting Commission’s inaction in response to the Ohio Supreme Court’s directive to redraw congressional maps has raised questions about the consequences of non-compliance. Despite the court’s stipulation that the General Assembly should create a new map within 30 days, and failing that, the commission would assume the task for another 30-day period, the expected actions have yet to materialize.

House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman have signaled their chambers’ unwillingness to take immediate action. Cupp has contended that the countdown for the General Assembly’s 30-day timeline should commence only after all appeals, including potential petitions for U.S. Supreme Court review, have been exhausted, leading to a potential deadline in mid-October.

Amidst the legal and jurisdictional debate, the absence of a clear-cut solution has led to a state of uncertainty. Ohio’s redistricting process, established by a 2017 ballot initiative, created the Ohio Redistricting Commission but left unanswered questions about the final authority and resolution mechanisms.

In contrast to other states such as Michigan, where a commission holds the ultimate redistricting authority, and Virginia, where the state supreme court steps in if the commission fails, Ohio’s framework lacks a definitive mechanism to address commission non-compliance.

Sam Wang, a professor and founder of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, underscored the absence of provisions in Ohio’s regulations regarding the consequences for the commission’s defiance of the state supreme court. The lack of a robust final backstop leaves room for speculation and legal ambiguities in the handling of this issue.

The utilization of the “independent state legislature theory,” a century-old notion that aims to circumvent state courts, has sparked concerns about potential subversion of judicial authority over legislative duties. Legislative leaders, including Cupp and Huffman, have emphasized that redistricting ultimately falls under the purview of the General Assembly, with several members of the assembly serving on the Ohio Redistricting Commission alongside Governor Mike DeWine, Auditor Keith Faber, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

When confronted with the possibility of holding ORC members in contempt for non-compliance with Ohio Supreme Court orders, some commission members have adamantly positioned the commission as an “independent” body. However, the state supreme court justices have asserted their jurisdiction over the legislative maps, highlighting the ongoing dispute as the sixth redraw of the maps remains unresolved.

In the intricate realm of congressional redistricting, the court’s declaration that the rejection of the initial map constituted a final decision has added further complexity. Prospective challengers seeking the court’s intervention have been instructed to file new lawsuits, signaling a demanding legal path ahead for those seeking redress.

As the legal impasse continues, and appeals of the state supreme court ruling remain pending, the fate of Ohio’s congressional redistricting lies in a state of legal uncertainty, prompting continued scrutiny and speculation over the potential outcomes and repercussions of the ongoing deadlock.

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