A three-judge panel made its case in a 301-page ruling that Ohio’s Congressional map was gerrymandered to give Republicans a partisan advantage, and that redistricting violated the Constitution.
Redistricting is the process of drawing congressional and state legislative districts and is typically performed after every census. Gerrymandering is using this process to benefit one political identity over another unfairly but not necessarily illegally.
The court found that despite a very close partisan divide that has made Ohio an important Presidential battleground, districts were drawn in such a way that Democrats were only competitive in 4 of the state’s 16 congressional districts.
The decision appears to be written for one audience — the United States Supreme Court. While the Southern District Court of Ohio argued that “a predominant partisan intent infected the whole map” in violation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has never gone that far in its evaluations.
But the national consensus on gerrymandering and congressional maps has changed. The Ohio decision follows close on the heels of an aggressive decision against partisan gerrymandering in state legislative districts in Michigan. The neighboring states both were among the states that passed citizen initiatives in 2018 to reform the redistricting process.
Due in part to the Supreme Court’s reticence to make a sweeping decision on partisan redistricting, the battle has largely shifted arenas and become a state issue, particularly with cases like Michigan’s. The wave of redistricting reforms passed by citizen initiatives in 2018 is another way the battle over gerrymandering is largely leaving the Supreme Court behind. That, however, has problems.
“If voters are confused about a ballot initiative, they tend to vote no,” said law professor and elections expert Daniel Tokaji of The Ohio State University. “And it’s not hard to confuse people if you have a lot of money.”
Beyond that, some states don’t permit direct citizen initiatives.
As for the Ohio ruling, the state is seeking to delay enacting the district court’s decision in advance of the Supreme Court’s rulings on partisan gerrymandering. The passage of redistricting reforms in 2018 don’t take effect until after the 2020 census and election. The decision of this case, whether made by the district court or Supreme Court, might change the outcome of Ohio’s congressional races in 2020.