Ohio Congressional Maps Found Unconstitutional by Ohio Federal Court

Government Relations

A three-member panel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has ruled that Ohio’s current congressional map is an unconstitutional gerrymander along partisan lines. Plaintiffs in the case, which included the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and a group of Ohio residents from across the state, contended that the map was intentionally designed to give Republicans a 12-4 advantage in races, preventing large segments of Ohio’s voters from having their votes meaningfully reflected in their congressional delegation. In a 301-page opinion, the court agreed and has ordered the state to create a new map by June 14, 2019.

Ohio’s 2012-2022 congressional map has been under scrutiny since it was enacted in 2011. In fact, the current map was the state’s second attempt, as the original map had to be revised almost immediately under threat of a referendum campaign. Critics have long argued that the current map created safe Republican and Democratic districts, designed to protect incumbents against changing demographics. In each of the four congressional elections with the current map, Republicans have won the same 12 seats and Democrats the same four. The discontent with the current map and the process used to create it led to last year’s successful ballot initiative to provide the minority party more say in the redistricting process. As that new process will not be effective until the 2022 election, plaintiffs initiated the current lawsuit to get a new map in place by the 2020 election.

In describing the current map, the court said:

"[The map drawers] split Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati in a strange, squiggly, curving shape . . . They drew a new District 3 in Franklin County, efficiently concentrating Democratic voters together in an area sometimes referred to as the “Franklin County Sinkhole.” . . . They paired Democratic incumbent Representatives Kaptur and Kucinich to create the infamous “Snake on the Lake” – a bizarre, elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties . . . They designed these districts with one overarching goal in mind – the creation of an Ohio congressional map that would reliably elect twelve Republican representatives and four Democratic representatives . . . [Experts] demonstrated that levels of voter support for Democrats can and have changed, but the map’s partisan output remains stubbornly undisturbed. The experts used various metrics and methodologies to measure their findings, but several takeaways were universal: (1) the Ohio map sacrifices respect for traditional districting principles in order to maximize pro-Republican partisan advantage; (2) the Ohio map’s pro-Republican partisan bias is extreme, compared both to historical plans across the United States and to other possible configurations that could have been adopted in Ohio; and (3) the Ohio map minimizes responsiveness and competition, rendering one consistent result no matter the particularities of the election cycle."

While Republicans won 75 percent of congressional seats in the last four elections, they won a substantially lower percentage of the statewide vote. In the 2012 election, Republicans won only 51 percent of the statewide vote. In 2014, they won 59 percent of the statewide vote. In 2016, they won 57 percent of the statewide vote. In 2018, they won only 52 percent of the statewide vote. According to the court, Republicans achieved this result by “packing and cracking” Democratic voters into districts “that are so skewed toward one party that the electoral outcome is predetermined.” Republicans packed as many Democratic voters as possible into four heavily Democratic, non-competitive districts, while redistributing the remaining Democratic voters among twelve majority Republican districts. Ultimately, the court concluded the map was unconstitutional as it reflected an intentional gerrymander with no legitimate justification.

As no congressional elections are imminent, the court found that the state should first be allowed to enact a new map. The state must file the new map with the court within seven days of enactment, no later than June 21, along with evidence of the process and criteria used to create the map. If the plaintiffs believe that the new map is still unconstitutional, they will have seven days following the filing of the plan with the court to file objections, at which point the court will again review the constitutionality of the map. If the state fails to enact a new map by June 14 or fails to enact a constitutionally-sound map, the court declared that it may act to create the new map.

The state said in court filings that any new map needs to be in place by September 20, 2019 in order to prepare for the 2020 election, though the court noted that the current map was not put in place until December 2011 with no ill effect on the November 2012 election.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the state will seek a stay of the ruling and file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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