Federal court strikes down Ohio congressional map as unconstitutional

A federal court in Ohio found Friday that the state’s congressional map is unconstitutional, striking down the map as a partisan gerrymander and ordering that a new map be drawn for the 2020 election.

It’s the latest in a series of states where congressional maps have been thrown out by the courts — following Michigan’s maps last week.

However, the ultimate fate of the decisions in Ohio and Michigan likely depends on how the Supreme Court handles gerrymandering cases in two other states: Maryland and North Carolina. Cases involving those states’ maps were argued before the court in March, and the court’s eventual ruling would likely determine the outcome of appeals in Ohio and Michigan, too. The states will likely ask the courts to put the recent rulings on hold, while it considers the Maryland and North Carolina cases

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost tweeted Friday that the state would appeal.

“Ohioans already voted to reform how we draw our congressional maps,” Yost tweeted. “This opinion takes that decision out of the hands of the people and is a fundamentally political act that has no basis whatsoever in the Constitution. Ohio will seek a stay of this decision and appeal it.”

If the decision in Ohio stands, it would be a boon to Democrats. Republicans who control the state government there currently hold 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats — a margin they would be unlikely to maintain under new maps, since the state is competitive even though it has shifted in the GOP’s favor over the last decade.

The three-judge panel — with two judges appointed by Democratic presidents and one by a Republican president — found that Ohio’s maps were drawn to favor the GOP.

“We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity,” Judges Karen Moore, Timothy Black and Michael Watson wrote in their 300-page opinion.

The judges found that a 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.”

They declared that map cannot be used in 2020, and that a “constitutionally viable replacement” map must be enacted for that election.

The court gave the GOP-led legislature until June 14 to produce a new map, and until June 21 to submit the map and details about how its boundaries were determined.

The decision comes ahead of moves already in progress to limit partisan influence on Ohio’s congressional maps. Voters there already approved a constitutional amendment that would require broader approval of new maps. That new measure would take effect in 2021 — in time for the redistricting process ahead of the 2022 election.