|Friday, April 3 was a great day for democracy!
The US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio made 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 district maps they drew in 2011. The goal is simple: fair, constitutional maps for the 2020 election, and the Court agreed.
Specifically it decided that the Ohio House and Senate intended to draw maps that electorally disadvantaged the supporters of the party that lacked control of the map making process. Then it decided 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. Then it decided there was no reason except gaining a partisan advantage that would explain why the 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.
Didn’t we just amend the Ohio Constitution a year ago?
Yes. Ballot Issue 1 that passed in May 2018 provides important minimum standards for future map making by amending Ohio’s Constitution. Congressional maps must comply with both the Ohio Constitution and the US Constitution. This case argues that 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 as soon as possible.
The court ordered the General Assembly to pass a new plan no later than June 14, 2019 and send it to the Court within 7 days. If the plaintiffs believe that plan is still unconstitutional, they need to file objections within 7 days. The Court will then decide if the newly enacted plan is constitutional. If the General Assembly doesn’t pass a constitutional plan, the Court can appoint a Special Master to draw a map.
The parties are also required to file briefs by June 3 discussing whether Mr. Cooper’s remedial plan should be adopted. Mr. Cooper is an expert in drawing maps and was a witness for the plaintiffs. He presented a map to the Court, which meets constitutional standards while also abiding by the minimum standards set forth in Ballot Issue 1.
The General Assembly and the Republican intervenors filed notices of appeal to the US Supreme Court. They also filed motions in the district Court asking it to stay its order pending the US Supreme Court decision in similar cases from Maryland and North Carolina. 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. A lot will depend on the US Supreme Court cases from Maryland and North Carolina. If they are decided favorably to our position, the District Court should once again require the General Assembly to draw a new map.
What will the new map look like?
The Court recognized what we 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 last Friday should, if followed, go a long way toward making those values a reality.
Final Take Away:
The Court’s opinion completely validates every one of the plaintiff’s claims. Every individual and organizational plaintiff was found to have standing; every expert methodology was given consideration; every district was found to be partisan gerrymandered. All of the state’s rationalizations and defenses were considered and rejected: the map was not bipartisan; it was not motivated by the need to comply with the VRA; 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 Supreme Court will ultimately rule, but our decisive victory in the trial court adds significantly to the momentum for new, fair maps that is building across the country.