A federal court ruled Friday that Ohio’s congressional map is unconstitutional and ordered a new one be drawn for the 2020 elections.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati ruled unanimously that district boundaries were manipulated for partisan gain by Republican mapmakers and violates voters’ rights to democratically select their representatives. The ruling blocks Ohio from holding another election under the current map.
Ohio Democratic Representative David Leland said Friday’s ruling was a long time coming.
“In layman’s terms it means people’s voting rights have been denied them for over 10 years in the state of Ohio for partisan reasons,” said Leland.
The ruling is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the judges ordered that the state propose a new map by June 20.
Republican political strategist Terry Casey said both sides need guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court before redistricting, redrawing or reversing course on the current map, beginning with direction on the ultimate goal.
“Is it compact districts? Is it political correctness? Is it homogenous communities held whole? What is the criteria and how do you do it,” questioned Casey.
Voters’ rights and Democratic groups who sued Ohio Republican officials said redistricting completed after the 2010 Census yielded a statewide map that has produced an unbending 12-4 Republican advantage in Ohio’s delegation. Republicans said the map was drawn with bipartisan support. They also pointed out that a new map will be drawn anyway after the 2020 Census.
Plaintiffs said Ohioans shouldn’t have to wait for a fair map.
The U.S. Supreme Court is already considering challenges to congressional maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and Maryland, drawn by Democrats.
Leland said he just wants Republicans to follow the ruling requiring a new map in place for the 2020 election which means done and drawn by June 14th of this year.
“I’m hoping that Republican leaders in the legislature will now draw fair lines as opposed to the ones the court just found were unconstitutional,” said Leland.
Ohio’s Attorney General, Republican Dave Yost, said the state will seek a stay and will appeal the decision.
In a case similar to Ohio’s, a three-judge panel ruled this month that Michigan’s congressional and legislative maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and ordered the state Legislature to redraw some districts for 2020. The judges wrote that GOP mapmakers in 2011 drew maps with the goal of ensuring “durable majorities” for Republicans. An appeal is likely.
American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson had said the 10-year map was being challenged because the legal landscape has changed and because the map’s results in terms of partisan representation are easily shown.
The suit called Ohio’s current map “one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history,” and that it reliably has done its job of creating a 12-to-4 advantage for Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation despite the GOP having only about half the state’s votes.
The longest-serving woman in U.S. House history was among plaintiffs’ witnesses. Nineteen-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur, of Toledo, said her district was “hacked apart,” forcing her into a Democratic primary with veteran congressman Dennis Kucinich, of Cleveland, in 2012. She won, knocking him out of Congress. Her 9th district’s new map stretched eastward in a skinny line along Lake Erie all the way into Cleveland. Critics of the remap have dubbed it “the Snake by the Lake.”
Attorneys for Republicans said the map resulted from compromise with Democrats and noted that each party lost one seat after reapportionment reduced Ohio’s U.S. House delegation because of population shifts in the 2010 census. The delegation went from 13-5 Republican to 12-4.
“This is called democracy in action,” said attorney Phil Strach. He added that both parties supported “incumbency protection” — or making it more likely an incumbent will win — because that benefits all Ohioans by giving their delegation more clout in Washington.
He said Ohioans have been voting Republican this decade, which has also seen GOP control of the both the executive and legislative branches in the state.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) released the following statement about the decision:
“We cannot allow gerrymandered maps to rob Ohioans of their constitutional right to have their voice fairly represented in Congress. For too long, politicians in Columbus and across the country – including Maryland and North Carolina – have rigged the system with gerrymandered maps at the expense of voters,” Brown said. “Today’s ruling is one more step toward making sure every voter’s voice is heard, but we still have a lot of work ahead to fight back against voter suppression in Ohio and across the country.”
Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.
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