Last updated: July 24. 2013 2:10PM - 299 Views

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Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

The Supreme Court of Ohio has upheld as constitutional the state apportionment board’s 2011 redrawing of legislative districts for the Ohio General Assembly.

In a 4-3 decision authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, the court based its ruling on findings that The Ohio Constitution does not mandate political neutrality in the reapportionment of legislative districts, but does require that partisan considerations cannot prevail over the nonpartisan requirements set forth in Article XI.

Article XI of the Ohio Constitution requires that in the year following each decennial U.S. census, a five-member apportionment board must conduct a reapportionment of the Ohio General Assembly (redrawing of Ohio House and Senate districts) to reflect changes in the state’s population since the preceding census and redistricting. The 2011 apportionment board consisted of Governor John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Auditor of State David Yost and Ohio Senate President Thomas Niehaus, all Republicans, and House Minority Leader Armond Budish, a Democrat.

The case arose from an original action filed in the Supreme Court by Charles Wilson and a group of other voters who reside in areas of the state that were affected by the legislative redistricting plan developed by the state apportionment board in 2011.

The majority of justices also opined that the burden of proof in a constitutional challenge to an apportionment plan is borne by the challenging party, which must establish that the plan violates the Constitution beyond a reasonable doubt. Absent proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a plan is unconstitutional, a court reviewing an apportionment plan must presume that the apportionment board acted properly and in a lawful manner.

Justice O’Donnell’s opinion was joined by Justices Judith Ann Lanzinger and Robert R. Cupp and Judge John R. Willamowski of the Third District Court of Appeals, sitting for Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.

Justice Paul E. Pfeifer and Justice Yvette McGee Brown entered separate dissenting opinions, both of which were joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

In his dissent, Justice Pfeifer wrote: “In order to justify its finding of constitutionality, the majority opinion expresses two conclusions of questionable legitimacy; these anchors of the majority opinion fail the tests of logic and fairness. First the majority opinion erects a nearly insurmountable barrier to a successful constitutional challenge by assigning to the board’s actions a blanket presumption of constitutionality and requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt to establish that the plan fails to meet all constitutional requirements. … Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is typically necessary only in criminal cases. Such a high burden of proof in the current constitutional matter turns this court into a rubber stamp, not the guardian of the constitution that it is designed to be.”

Justice McGee Brown went on to cite evidence in the record showing that, notwithstanding the requirement of Article XI, Section 7(A) that districts must be drawn to contain “one or more whole counties” whenever feasible, “(T)he joint secretaries of the 2011 apportionment board admitted that in its redistricting plan ‘the division of Holmes County for House District 70, Athens, Pickaway, and Muskingum Counties for House District 78, Auglaize and Shelby Counties for House District 84, Ross County for House District 91, Athens, Vinton, and Washington Counties for House District 94, and Washington County for House District 95, are not required by the applicable provisions of Article XI.’”

State Representative Terry Johnson who saw his district change from the 89th to the 90th was not reachable for comment on Tuesday.

“Today’s Ohio Supreme Court decision is a victory for partisan political gerrymandering and a significant loss for Ohio voters. The court’s narrow majority in its 4-3 decision simply legalized the process of putting political interest ahead of the preservation of communities of interest. The Constitution clearly requires that the apportionment board minimize splits to counties, townships, cities and wards. The map that was adopted slices and dices governmental units 255 times, while alternative maps divided governmental units fewer than 100 times,” Budish (D-Beachwood) said. “The court’s decision today points to the urgent need to adopt a new, fair system of redistricting.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@heartlandpublications.com.

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