By Ann Henkener and Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio
BREAKING: On May 9, a three judge panel of the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio denied the State of Ohio's request to put their order to redraw congressional districts on hold.
Overview of the Gerrymandering Case
On May 3, the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio announced its ruling in a case brought by Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, League of Women Voters of Ohio, and individuals from each Congressional district in Ohio.
ACLU of Ohio served as chief counsel, and the plaintiffs sued the Ohio General Assembly over the congressional districts they drew in 2011. The goal of A. Philip Randolph v. Householder is simple: fair, constitutional maps for the 2020 election, and the US District Court agreed.
Specifically, the federal court decided that Ohio’s state legislature intended to draw maps that electorally disadvantaged the supporters of the political party that lacked control of the mapmaking process. The court determined that the maps were effective in fulfilling that intent – Republicans consistently won the same 12 of the 16 Congressional seats no matter what the voters did.
The US District Court ruled that there was no reason except gaining a partisan advantage that would explain why the political party in power kept winning 75% of the seats, despite only getting a little over 50% of the state’s votes each election. Finally, the court decided that the current map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered a replacement map to be drawn before the 2020 election.
The District Court’s opinion completely validates every one of the plaintiff’s claims about gerrymandering and the unfairness of Ohio’s congressional map. Every individual and organizational plaintiff was found to have standing; every expert methodology was given consideration; every district was found to be gerrymandered for partisan advantage.
All of the state’s rationalizations and defenses were considered by the federal judges and rejected: the map was not bipartisan; it was not motivated by the need to comply with the Voting Rights Act; and it was not the result of “incumbency protection” or the state’s natural political geography. Of course, it is impossible to know how the US Supreme Court will ultimately rule, but this decisive victory in the trial court adds significantly to the momentum for new, fair maps that is building across the country.
READ ABOUT THE 2011 MAPMAKING
The federal court ordered the state legislature to pass a new plan or congressional map no later than June 14, 2019 and send it to the court within 7 days. If the plaintiffs believe that plan is still unconstitutional or is still gerrymandered, they will need to file objections within 7 days. The District Court will then decide if the newly enacted map is constitutional. If the court decides that the Ohio General Assembly didn’t pass a constitutional map, the court can appoint a Special Master to draw a map.
The parties to the case are also required to file briefs by June 3 discussing whether map drawn by mapping expert William Cooper should be adopted for Election 2020. Mr. Cooper was a witness for the plaintiffs and he presented a map to the District Court, which meets constitutional standards while also abiding by standards set forth in the May 2018 redistricting reform ballot measure.
On May 6, the Ohio General Assembly and the Republican intervenors filed notices of appeal to the US Supreme Court.
They also filed a motion in the District Court asking it to stay its order or asking permission to wait until the US Supreme Court decision in similar cases from Maryland and North Carolina are announced.
The District Court will likely deny the stay and the defendants will ask the US Supreme Court for an emergency stay, which the Supreme Court may grant.
It is not clear exactly what will happen. A lot will depend on the US Supreme Court cases from Maryland (a Democratic gerrymander) and North Carolina (a Republican gerrymander). The US Supreme Court has not yet declared partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional. If these cases from Maryland and North Carolina clarify partisan gerrymandering as unconstitutional, the District Court should once again require the General Assembly to draw a new map.
Updates will be available on the Fair Districts=Fair Election’s website.
Didn’t we just amend the Ohio Constitution a year ago?
Yes. Ballot Issue 1 that passed on May 8, 2018 provides important minimum standards for future map making by amending Ohio’s Constitution. Congressional maps must be comply with both the Ohio Constitution and the US Constitution. A. Philip Randolph v. Householder argues that the Ohio’s current congressional map doesn’t comply with the US Constitution.
Why all the fuss for one election when Ohio will redo maps in 2021 anyway?
Every election matters! The people of Ohio deserve a map that complies with the US Constitution. Voters deserve to participate in meaningful elections as soon as possible.
What could a new map look like?
The US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recognized what redistricting reformers have been saying for a long time. Districts need to be drawn to fairly represent the voters. They should not be purposely drawn to give one political party an advantage. They should recognize counties, cities, villages, and townships and try not to split them up. The Order from the District Court that came out on May 3 should, if followed, go a long way toward making those values a reality.
Recent articles about next steps:
Cleveland.com, Proof from Pennsylvania: A New Ohio Congressional Map Can Quickly Be Drawn and Put to Use, May 7, 2019
Cincinnati Enquirer, Federal Judges Want to Throw out Ohio's Gerrymandered Congressional Map. What Does That Mean for 2020?, May 6, 2019