Congressional Map Ruled Gerrymandering

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Western Division ruled last week that Ohio’s congressional map is an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander” and ordered that the district map be redrawn by June 14, leaving enough time for the map to come into effect for the 2020 election. On Monday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost requested a stay on the federal court decision.

The existing districting map was drawn in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly, a bipartisan legislative task force advised the assembly. The court’s three-judge panel concluded that this map was deliberately created to favor the Republican party and elect three Republicans for every Democrat elected.

“We conclude that the [2011] map unconstitutionally burdens associational rights by making it more difficult for voters and certain organizations to advance their aims,,” the judicial opinion reads. “We conclude that by creating such a map, the State exceeded its powers under Article I of the Constitution.”

Janet Garrett, a local politician and former candidate for Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, believes that the current map influenced the balance of Republicans and Democrats representing Ohio.

“Ohio is about a 50-50 percent split between Democrats and Republicans — probably closer to a 30-30-30 percent split between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” she said. “But, because of the gerrymandering, our Statehouse is hugely lopsided in favor of the Republicans. Out of the 16 district seats, only four are Democrats.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, along with the ACLU Voting Rights Project and the law firm Covington & Burling, acted as counsel during the court proceedings. This council represented 17 individual Ohio residents and five Ohio-based organizations who brought the case to court.

Yost requested that the decision be put on hold until the resolution of Maryland and North Carolina’s congressional map cases, which are currently being deliberated in the U.S. Supreme Court. Those cases are expected to be decided by the end of June 2019.

If the federal court does not grant the stay, Yost plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The ACLU on behalf of its clients has opposed the stay,” said Elizabeth Bonham, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Ohio. “It’s our position that the relief the court has ordered should go underway. The state legislature should get busy drawing a new map so Ohio’s voters can have a constitutional map to work with for 2020.”

Before last week’s decision, Ohio residents had also recently voted to change the state’s congressional mapping system. Last May, Issue 1 — the Congressional Redistricting Procedures Amendment — passed 75–25 percent, ensuring a more bipartisan map-drawing process in which the map must be approved by at least half of the state’s minority party. However, the amendment will not be implemented until after the next U.S. Census in 2021.

“The lawsuit that the ACLU brought doesn’t in any way conflict with [Issue 1],” Bonham explained. “One of the things that it would do is strike down the current 2011 congressional map, declare that to be unconstitutional, and obtain relief in time for the 2020 election. It’s our position that even one election using an unconstitutional map is too many.”

Lili Sanders, Oberlin resident and founder of Lorain County Rising, expressed enthusiasm about the court’s decision and hopes it will stand.

“Regardless of what happens, the people of Ohio have overwhelmingly shown that they want a change — they do not approve of gerrymandering,” she said. “It was just a year ago that Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to have the maps redrawn. I know that the Attorney General is saying that that’s enough and that we shouldn’t confuse people by having different congressional districts from year to year. His argument doesn’t make any sense because out of the next three years, we only have one congressional election. What matters is that democracy is respected and that the people are represented to the full extent of their constitutional rights.”

Garrett was also excited about the ruling. However, she feels reluctant to celebrate its outcome before the court decides on Yost’s request.

“I’m really hoping they will let the decision stand because what we have right now is not democracy,” she explained. “What we have now is a system clearly rigged in favor of one party. When you get a system that’s so stacked like that, it paves the way for extremists, which we currently have a lot of.”