By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the state's congressional map used in May's primary elections, concluding it illegally disfavors Democrats, and ordered lawmakers to draw a new version for the 2024 elections.
The 4-3 decision -- the second time this year the state's highest court has thrown out a Republican-backed congressional map -- will not affect November's midterm elections, which will proceed under district lines that have now been found to violate the state constitution.
The map all but guarantees that Republicans will capture at least 11, and perhaps 12, of the state's 15 congressional districts, the majority of the court wrote, despite the fact that Democrats have received approximately 47% of the statewide vote in recent elections.
A 2018 constitutional amendment approved by voters prohibits congressional districts drawn to favor one party over another, a process known as gerrymandering.
The majority included the court's three Democrats as well as Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican who will leave the court at year's end due to age limits.
The court's other three Republican justices, including Pat DeWine, Governor Mike DeWine's son, dissented, writing that the voting rights groups that challenged the map did not prove their case.
The court previously invalidated an earlier version of the map as an illegal gerrymander in January. In response, the state's Republican-majority redistricting commission, which includes Governor DeWine, approved a revised version that made only modest changes.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio and several Democratic voters filed lawsuits challenging the new map, but the court set out a schedule that extended beyond the May 3 primary elections, ensuring the map would be in use this year.
Republicans need to flip only five Democratic seats nationwide to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November, which would allow them to block much of Democratic President Joe Biden's agenda.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Jonathan Oatis)