Moore v Harper ruling could influence outcome of Ohio redistricting dispute

Image from

Listen to this story (6 minutes)

  • The U.S. Supreme Court's Moore v. Harper redistricting ruling could have an impact soon over Ohio's legal dispute involving a congressional election map.
  • In an order issued Friday, the high court vacated an earlier ruling in the Ohio case. Justices sent the case back to Columbus, where the Ohio Supreme Court must reconsider its decision in light of Moore v. Harper.
  • Ohio's Republican legislative leaders argued that the Ohio court rejected a congressional election map drawn by a redistricting commission because it failed to guarantee enough Democratic election wins.

Three days after its ruling in North Carolina’s Moore v. Harper redistricting case, the U,S. Supreme Court has ordered Ohio’s top court to apply that ruling to a Buckeye State battle over a congressional election map.

In an order issued Friday before justices shut down their work for the summer, the high court granted a plea from Ohio legislative leaders to take up the case Huffman v. Neiman. The court vacated an earlier ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court. Justices in Washington, D.C., called for justices in Columbus, Ohio, to give the case “further consideration in light of Moore v. Harper.”

Carolina Journal reported in January that the U.S. Supreme Court could take the Huffman case if it decided to drop Moore v. Harper. At the time, it was unclear whether justices in Washington, D.C., would issue a ruling in the N.C. dispute or drop the case.

Unlike North Carolina, Ohio employs a redistricting commission to draw its statewide election maps. Yet the commission has not freed the Buckeye State from partisan disputes over district lines.

A federal court allowed Ohio to proceed with 2022 congressional elections using maps declared unconstitutional by the state’s top court.

Legislative leaders in Columbus asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the Ohio courts’ actions.

“The Elections Clause assigns to state legislatures the authority to draw congressional district maps. The Ohio Supreme Court arrogated that authority to itself when it (1) made up rules for the Ohio legislature to follow as it draws congressional district maps and (2) commandeered the state legislature’s pen by dictating the number of Republicans and Democrats to represent Ohio in Congress,” according to a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in late December. “Because the Ohio Supreme Court is not the state legislature, those policymaking acts violated the Elections Clause.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost represents legislative leaders, along with a Cincinnati-based private firm. Raleigh-based attorneys who have worked for N.C. legislators in Moore v. Harper also serve as special counsel for Ohio legislative leaders.

“At the Ohio Supreme Court, Petitioners explained that the Elections Clause prohibits that court — ‘a judicial body, not a legislative body’ — from becoming the ‘invisible hand’ drawing the districts and from ‘vest[ing] itself with the authority to draw congressional boundary lines’ either ‘under its own pen or indirectly through a line-by-line mandate,’” according to the brief.

“The Ohio Supreme Court nonetheless decided to do what the Elections Clause prohibits,” Ohio legislators argued. “[T]he court both created its own rules governing Ohio’s congressional district maps and dictated the electoral outcomes that Ohio’s map must produce.”

Defenders of the Ohio Supreme Court’s actions claim state justices merely interpreted and applied the law. “That’s not what happened,” Ohio legislators responded. “Instead, the Ohio Supreme Court made up the rule of decision and then forced the legislature to act as its puppet in ensuring that at least six Democrats from Ohio serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“The court invalidated a congressional district map with ten Republican-leaning districts and five Democratic-leaning districts not because of any language in the Ohio Constitution, but because — in the Court’s view — that outcome was a ‘statistical outlier’ that exhibited undue partisan bias.”

Not only did the Ohio Supreme Court decide that Democrats should win at least six of the state’s 15 congressional races. “It also dictated the vote share of the Democratic-leaning districts, concluding that Democrats were not really favored to win districts with Democratic vote shares of 52.15%, 51.04%, and 50.23%.”

“That is, the Democratic-leaning seats were not Democratic enough. Again, no words from the Ohio Constitution supported any of those percentages,” according to the brief.

As in Moore v. Harper, critics of Ohio state courts’ action sought clarity from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Even if state courts have some ability to ensure that state laws regulating federal elections abide by state constitutional provisions, the Elections Clause prohibits state courts from significantly departing from a reasonable interpretation of a state constitution such that the court, in effect, acts as a legislature.”

Now Ohio’s Supreme Court will apply Moore v. Harper to the Buckeye State election map fight. Justices in Washington, D.C., have indicated that they could reject state courts’ approach to federal Elections Clause cases under certain circumstances.

“In interpreting state law in this area, state courts may not so exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review as to unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically reserved to state legislatures by Article I, Section 4, of the Federal Constitution,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 6-3 majority.