Federal court strikes down Ohio congressional maps

A panel of federal judges on Friday ruled Ohio legislators violated the Constitution in drawing congressional district lines that unfairly hindered Democratic chances at winning seats.

The three judges, who sit on the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which sued claiming the districts unfairly pack Democratic voters into some districts and crack them between others, diluting their political power.

That test, becoming known in redistricting parlance as cracking and packing, has been the standard other judicial panels have used to strike down district lines in Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland and North Carolina.

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Friday’s ruling is similar to one issued last week in Michigan, where a court struck down congressional and legislative district lines. The three judges said Ohio state legislators had gone too far in drawing lines that aided Republican candidates.

“We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity. Performing our analysis district by district, we conclude that the 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,” the judges wrote. 

The district lines drawn after the 2010 Census, first used in the 2012 elections, have given Republicans a lock on Ohio’s congressional delegation. The GOP holds 12 of the state’s 16 seats, even though Republicans won only 52 percent of the total congressional vote in 2018.

Before the 2010 Republican landslide and the subsequent redistricting process, Democrats had held 10 of 18 seats.

Ohio legislators are almost certain to appeal the ruling, which would go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is already considering political gerrymandering cases out of Maryland and North Carolina. A decision in those cases is likely by the end of the court’s term in June, well before any deadline for the 2020 elections.

The next round of reapportionment and redistricting will be different in Ohio.

In 2018, voters approved a constitutional amendment that would require new district lines win input from the minority party in the state legislature. Barring that agreement, a political commission made up of a bipartisan group of appointees would be tasked with drawing district lines.