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The question of whether Ohio’s new congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor the Republicans who controlled the mapmaking process drew strong pushback Tuesday among justices of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Oral arguments in two lawsuits challenging the new 4-year map showing boundaries for 15 U.S. House districts were pushed online by a new COVID-19 surge.

Justices asked how the new lines were fair to Democrats and minority voters, why opponents must prove it was gerrymandered “beyond a reasonable doubt” and if Ohio voters’ decision to overhaul the state’s redistricting procedures with a 2018 constitutional amendment effectively overruled legal arguments drawn from the battle over Ohio’s current map, drawn in 2011.

“Why would we use that as the starting point, the 2011 map, when clearly the the intervening factor was the vote of the people that demanded that you scrap that kind of analysis and you go with, (that) your guidepost is not to unduly gerrymander the elective maps?” asked Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a potentially key swing vote.

Phillip Strach, an attorney for Republican legislative leaders, said the people wanted less partisan districts “and that’s absolutely what they got.”

“The districts are a win for the people of Ohio,” he said. “They got more competitive districts. Seven out of 15 — that’s a plurality of the districts — are now legit competitive districts, even the experts agree.”

Strach said Republicans’ expert found Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown would have won eight or nine of them.

Lawyers for voting-rights and Democratic groups argued it’s indisputable that the map “‘unduly’ favors the Republican Party,” which would be unconstitutional. The two suits were brought by the National Democratic Redistricting Commission’s legal arm, as well as the Ohio offices of the League of Women Voters and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

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