Ohio Supreme Court Justice will Step Down At End Of Year


OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion


Across the country, redistricting has been a hot topic.

In June 2022, every state in the union showed a new congressional map in place for the 2022 election.

Several of those maps are being challenged in court, FiveThirtyEight reported at the time, but none seemed like a serious possibility to be overturned before the midterms.

The outlet noted at the time that important takeaways from the 2021-22 redistricting cycle were that “first, the number of swing seats will continue to decline; the new maps have six fewer highly competitive districts than the old ones. And, second, people of color will remain underrepresented in Congress.”

States are in an internal debate regarding their own voting districts, and where the lines should be drawn.

The battle over newly-redrawn congressional maps has heated up months before November’s midterms and could play a huge role in the 2024 elections.

Many states have seen either rulings or the putting-off of rulings in regard to redistricting.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Louisiana state legislature by allowing the state’s Republican-drawn congressional map to remain in place.

A federal judge had previously ruled the map violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered lawmakers to redraw the state’s six congressional districts to include two in which Black voters were in the majority.

In a brief one-page order, the Supreme Court said it would wait until next term to rule on the matter given there’s a similar case from Alabama scheduled to be argued next term, which begins in October.

The Court ruled 6-3 on the case, with the three liberal Justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan – dissenting.

Prior to that, the Florida Supreme Court delivered a gigantic win to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the Sunshine State by “rejecting a request for a hearing over the state’s new congressional map that eliminates a majority Black district.”

In early June, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Republicans’ new redistricting law is legal and will make it more difficult for the only Kansas congressional delegate to win re-election.

In July, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to reject a GOP-drawn map of U.S. House districts as gerrymandered, sending it back to meet constitutional parameters approved by Ohio voters.

However, redistricting will not be in effect in time for the midterms as new maps will not be put in place until 2024.

But these changes could affect the next presidential election.

In Ohio, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has been vocal about the issue of redistricting, and how it affects her state of Ohio.

O’Connor voiced concern for Ohioans after a vast majority voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to reform the process of gerrymandering but it “didn’t work,” she claimed.

“It did not prevent gerrymandering and it did not prevent the use in the upcoming election on Nov. 8 of unconstitutional maps that were drawn both for the congressional and general assembly districts,” O’Connor said.

Article 11, the constitutional amendment meant to prohibit undue partisanship in the redistricting process, “has no discernible or enforceable effect to curb gerrymandering in Ohio,” O’Connor said.

“The Ohio Supreme Court sent back five versions of the legislative district maps as unconstitutional and two versions of the congressional map with similar partisan favoritism concerns. O’Connor was a part of all seven majority opinions in the cases.”

In fact, she received criticism from members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission about her decision to side with those ruling the maps unconstitutional,” City Beat reported.

Ohio elections chief Secretary of State Frank LaRose, also a member of the commission, suggested he approved of removing her as chief justice over the decisions.

“The independent state legislature doctrine has the potential, if it were adopted to its full limit, of saying it would violate the U.S. Constitution to give the state courts any role,” LaRose said.

O’Connor also pushed for an independent redistricting commission, one where voters can choose a model “that distances a redistricting commission from partisan politics by not having elected officials on the redistricting commission.”

“Let’s try having ordinary, sensible people who are not driven by politics, but rather by what’s fair: fair representation and justice,” O’Connor said.

“People who go to the polls vote in most of the races and then stop when it comes to the judges, in all courts, because they don’t know,” O’Connor added. “There is so much more we can do for the people of Ohio.”

Far from being removed from the process, O’Conner plans to do more about the issue when she leaves the bench.

Justice O’Conner has now announced that she will be leaving office at the end of the year and revealed she will become part of the anti-gerrymandering effort.

While delivering the “State of the Judiciary” at the Ohio Judicial Conference, O’Connor spoke about her next steps given she has been term-limited as the head of the state’s highest court.

O’Connor’s seat is on the ballot, meaning November’s Ohio Supreme Court races could change how redistricting cases are handled, Conservative Brief reports.

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