Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

New Legislative Districts Drawn by Commission at Center of Multiple Lawsuits

Image showing a partial road map of Ohio with the word Ohio circled in red

Lawsuits argue new maps for state legislative districts violate standards adopted by voters in 2015 constitutional amendment.

Image showing a partial road map of Ohio with the word Ohio circled in red

Lawsuits argue new maps for state legislative districts violate standards adopted by voters in 2015 constitutional amendment.

Ohioans voted overwhelmingly in 2015 to reform the process for drawing state legislative districts. The goal of the constitutional amendment was to institute a bipartisan process and eliminate the gerrymandering of districts.

The Ohio Constitution tasks the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission with drawing the maps based on the latest U.S. census data. In September, the commission, in a 5-2 vote, adopted new maps for the General Assembly’s districts.

Troubled by how the commission implemented the reforms, advocacy groups and individuals sued, asserting that the legislative district maps don’t meet the requirements spelled out in the constitution. The Ohio Supreme Court will consider three separate lawsuits next week contesting the newly drawn maps for the General Assembly.

Census Data Received Later than Usual
The process of drawing the state’s legislative districts depends on U.S. census data collected every 10 years. The 2020 census data reached the state in August of this year, months later than the typical March delivery in past decades.

The redistricting commission’s five Republican members – the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, president of the Ohio Senate, and speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives – voted in the early hours of Sept. 16 to adopt the maps presented by the Senate president. The two Democratic commissioners – a senator and the House minority leader – voted against the new maps.

Because the maps didn’t garner bipartisan support, they are effective for four, rather than 10, years.

New Maps Don’t Track with Statewide Voter Preferences, Groups Contend
In the lawsuit led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWV), the group notes that state voting trends in the last 10 years show Republicans received 54.5% of the two-party vote and Democrats received 45.5% of the vote. The LWV states that the constitution requires the maps to be drawn to correspond closely to those preferences. However, the LWV argues, the adopted maps favor Republicans well above 60%.

Thousands of maps can be drawn with the correct voting preferences while following the constitution’s technical requirements for districts, the group states. However, the Republican commissioners who drew the maps made no attempt to adhere to the voting preferences, opting instead to create maps favoring their own party – all in violation of the updated constitutional provisions, the LWV contends.

The Democratic commissioners, Sen. Vernon Sykes and Rep. Emilia Sykes, agree, adding that the constitution also envisions the commissioners working together to draw maps, but such collaboration didn’t happen.

Aspects of Revised Process Are ‘Aspirational,’ Republican Commissioners Argue
Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp argue in their brief that aligning the maps with past voter preferences and drawing districts in a manner not favoring or disfavoring a political party are only aspirational standards in the constitution. The language acknowledges that the commission may not accomplish these goals, the legislative leaders argue. They also assert that the constitution is unclear about how to calculate the 10-year voting preferences of Ohio voters.

Their interpretation is that an allegation of the maps being drawn to favor one party and failing to align with statewide voter preferences must first assert that one of the constitution’s technical specifications for drawing maps was violated. Stand-alone claims of favoring one party or not tracking with voting preferences can’t be successful, Huffman and Cupp maintain.

The governor, secretary of state, and state auditor filed their own brief. In it, they discuss their attempts to bring together the legislative leaders so that a map for 10 years could be implemented. Acknowledging that their efforts failed, they maintain the lack of compromise within the commission doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of the adopted legislative maps. In their view, strict adherence to proportional representation would force the creation of gerrymandered districts.

Other Lawsuits Make Equal Protection, Freedom of Association Claims
The two additional lawsuits, led by the Ohio Organizing Collective (OOC) and citizen Bria Bennett, make arguments like those from the LWV. They press the commission to follow the constitution’s standards to craft maps reflecting statewide voting preferences. The OOC also contends that the adopted legislative maps are invalid because they restrict voters’ opportunity to vote on equal terms and undermine voters’ ability to join together to elect their representatives.

The statewide elected officials respond that these constitutional claims would mean Ohio leaders have been violating the constitution for decades before the 2015 changes and weren’t stopped from doing so on these grounds – an implausible scenario, they maintain.

Cases Attract Additional Briefs
The LWV’s case has drawn five amicus briefs in support of its arguments and one backing the Republican commissioners. The OOC and Bennett suits also attracted a number of amicus briefs.

The Supreme Court has combined the three cases – League of Women Voters of Ohio v. Ohio Redistricting Commission, Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. Ohio Redistricting Commission, and Bennett v. Ohio Redistricting Commission – for oral argument. Each side will be allotted 30 minutes.

Oral Argument Details
On Dec. 7, the Court will consider five cases. The Court will hear the three redistricting cases on Dec. 8 plus two other appeals. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on the Ohio Channel, which also archives them.

In addition to these highlights, the Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, Dec. 7
In 2016, a jury convicted a Butler County man of aggravated murder with a death penalty specification for murder-for-hire. Instead of imposing the death sentence, the jury opted for life in prison without the possibility for parole. In his appeal, the man argued the jury wasn’t properly instructed and failed to consider the option of granting him parole in 25 or 30 years. The appellate court noted that under R.C. 2953.08(D)(3), it had no authority to review his aggravated-murder sentence. In State v. Grevious, the Court will consider whether the law is unconstitutional when offenders maintain their sentences are “contrary to law.”

A 20-year-old was indicted in Mahoning County criminal court for alleged crimes that occurred when he was 17. When the defendant was 22, the prosecutor dismissed the charges and refiled them. The man pled no contest and received a 15-year prison sentence. In State v. Hudson, the defendant argues the juvenile court had jurisdiction over his case because he was apprehended and taken into custody before the age of 21. The prosecutor disagrees, maintaining the defendant was 22 at the time of the second indictment and the adult criminal court was the appropriate court for the case.

In 2017, a 14-year-old Champaign County boy suffering from mental illness killed his father’s long-time girlfriend. The county prosecutor requested the transfer of the boy’s case to adult court so he could be tried for aggravated murder and other charges. At an amenability hearing, a psychologist and others testified that the boy was amenable to treatment in the juvenile system. However, citing concern for community safety, the juvenile court bound over the boy to adult court where he was convicted. In State v. Nicholas, the boy maintains his constitutional rights were violated because the prosecution didn’t prove by clear and convincing evidence that he wasn’t amenable to treatment.

In its initial review of a proposed six-turbine wind farm in Lake Erie near Cleveland, the Ohio Power Siting Board determined that birds and bats are likely to be affected by the project. As a condition of approval, the board ruled that the wind turbines must be turned off — also known as “feathered” — from dusk to dawn from March through December each year. The windfarm owners objected, and a revised certificate replaced the mandated feathering with a board right to impose the evening shutdown if the turbines presented a problem. Two lake shoreline residents appealed. In In re Application of Icebreaker Windpower, the residents argue the board violated state law by approving the project without a completed assessment of the harm to birds and bats while also improperly allowing the lease of state land to house the facility.

The Coshocton attorney in Disciplinary Counsel v. Cox objects to a recommended one-year actual suspension. The state professional conduct board found the attorney had a consensual sexual relationship with a client for more than a year and lied about it during the disciplinary investigation and proceedings. The attorney maintains that he exchanged sexual text messages with the client, but he never had sex with her. He also disputes lying during the disciplinary process. The disciplinary counsel counters that the attorney ignores texts, emails, and cellphone records that reveal the nature of their relationship, and he continues to attack her character – all of which confirm the attorney’s “unrepentant and calculated dishonesty.”

Wednesday, Dec. 8
In Arnold v. Spencer Township Board of Trustees, a man who began working for Spencer Township as a paramedic was promoted to fire chief in 2015. His three-year fire chief employment contract included a severance clause paying 80% of the remainder of his contract if it was necessary to terminate him. The next year, due to rising costs, the township closed the fire department and rescinded the chief’s contract. The township refused to pay the severance, and the former chief sued. The former chief argues he was terminated and is entitled to the severance pay. The township counters that it wasn’t authorized to enter into the contract and that the chief wasn’t terminated.

The day after friends gathered for a party at a Preble County lake, a woman from the party was found dead floating in the water. DNA evidence was collected from her body but not tested. The man convicted of killing the woman in 1990 has consistently denied it, claiming other viable suspects were never pursued. In 2019, he sought postconviction relief, seeking DNA testing of the evidence from the crime scene. In State v. Scott, the Court will consider if trial judges have the authority to order profiles of DNA from the crime scene to match them with the federal DNA database when considering a postconviction petition.