Ohio Case Could Be Fourth Gerrymander Case Heading to Supreme Court

Ohio Case Could Be Fourth Gerrymander Case Heading to Supreme Court
Ohio Congressional Districts. (Public Domain)
Matthew Vadum

Ohio officials vow to appeal to the Supreme Court a three-judge federal panel’s determination that congressional districts in the Buckeye State were unlawfully gerrymandered and will have to be redrawn long before elections in November 2020.

The federal court ruling requires the state to have a new electoral map in place in a little over a month.

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, was jubilant, describing the May 3 ruling as “a victory for every Ohio voter, because a fair congressional map before 2020 means a stronger democracy for the Buckeye State.”

Ohio must “enact a remedial plan consistent” with the court’s opinion not later than June 14, and file the plan and an explanation of the reasoning involved in the mapping process with the court by June 21. The left-leaning groups that brought the lawsuit, including Miller’s, would then be given one week to object to the new electoral district boundaries. The court also indicated it could make a new map on its own, with the assistance of a judicial officer known as a special master.

Gerrymandering cases are currently pending before the Supreme Court, which recently heard oral arguments regarding legal challenges to the electoral maps of Maryland and North Carolina. An appeal of a federal court’s striking down of the map for Michigan is also expected.

Michigan lawmakers and congressional Republicans filed an emergency appeal May 3 with the Supreme Court to set aside a ruling by a panel of three federal judges in Detroit. The judges ordered the state’s electoral map be redrawn because of what they unanimously termed an unconstitutional “political gerrymander of ‘historical proportions’” that caused “severe” constitutional violations. “A wide breadth of statistical evidence” suggests partisan bias that gave Republicans a strong advantage over Democrats, the ruling stated.

Assuming Michigan and Ohio file their respective appeals, that would mean four states’ redistricting plans will soon be pending simultaneously before the Supreme Court.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, said an appeal to the Supreme Court was in the works, as well as a request to stay the Cincinnati-based federal judges’ ruling pending appeal, according to Cleveland-based The Plain Dealer.

Yost rejected the unanimous ruling by the panel, calling it a “fundamentally political act that has no basis whatsoever in the constitution.”

But the judges—two appointed by Democratic presidents, and one appointed by a Republican president—were equally emphatic that Democrats were treated unfairly in Ohio’s redistricting process.

“We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity … The 2012 map dilutes the votes of Democratic voters by packing and cracking them into districts that are so skewed toward one party that the electoral outcome is predetermined. We conclude that the map unconstitutionally burdens associational rights by making it more difficult for voters and certain organizations to advance their aims, be they pro-Democratic or pro-democracy.”

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said his office “will work with county boards of elections to administer fair, accurate and secure elections in 2020, pending the conclusion of the judicial process.”

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican, echoed Yost, saying the lawsuit should not have been brought.

“Make no mistake, this politically motivated lawsuit was brought for the sole purpose of helping Democrat candidates win more seats. It does so at the expense of Ohio’s voters, who would be forced to vote under three different congressional maps in four calendar years.”

Ohio House Democratic leader Emilia Sykes of Akron disagreed. “After decades of mistrust, predetermined outcomes and representation rigged against the voter, our state will have a real opportunity to give taxpayers an honest choice,” she said.

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