While a voter-approved reform measure awaits implementation, a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday seeks to overturn and replace Ohio’s current congressional map as “unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering” by ruling Republicans.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and a voter from each of Ohio’s 16 current U.S. House districts. Republicans hold a 12-4 advantage.
“Politicians have shamelessly and repeatedly flouted the will of voters with their partisan manipulation of the election process,” Alora Thomas-Lundborg, staff attorney with the National ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
“The Ohio map was specifically drawn to create an unfair advantage to one political party — Republicans — but gerrymandering is wrong no matter what party does it. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
Four Republicans were named as defendants in the lawsuit: Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted, interim Ohio House Speaker Kirk Schuring and Senate President Larry Obhof.
Husted said in a statement: “If the way the congressional lines were drawn was such an issue for the ACLU, A. Philip Randolph Institute and League of Women Voters, why did they wait six years to file a lawsuit challenging the maps? These groups should respect the will of Ohio’s voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment earlier this month that established a new, bipartisan process for drawing congressional districts starting in 2021.”
A spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine said, “The Ohio attorney general’s office is reviewing the filing and will respond in court.”
The action comes slightly more than two weeks after Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1 on the primary ballot, a constitutional amendment designed to more fairly redraw the state’s congressional districts. The League of Women Voters was among the groups that cobbled together a bipartisan compromise on the ballot issue that to redraw a map for the 2022 election. Both major Ohio political parties endorsed the issue.
Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio league, said in a statement: “We remain incredibly proud of the bipartisan compromise that went into passing Issue 1 and are committed to its successful implementation. We would not be participating in this suit if its goal were to stymie or undermine the reforms of Issue 1.
“Rather, we feel this can set the stage for the best possible outcome in future redistricting processes by establishing a fair baseline and has the potential to bring fair districts to all Ohio voters even sooner.”
ACLU of Ohio legal director Freda Levinson said, “Ohio’s map was manipulated to create a congressional delegation with a 12-4 Republican advantage — and to lock it in for a decade. And the map has consistently performed exactly as its architects planned. The party has only received 50 to 60 percent of the statewide vote in these elections this decade. Their fixed possession of 75 percent of seats regardless of how voters vote is egregious.”
The ACLU doubts its lawsuit will impact this year’s mid-term election for U.S. House seats, but hopes it could lead to a new map for the 2020 election. The organization also believes a ruling in its favor would establish a legal baseline to recraft congressional boundaries under the voter-approved plan.
Ohio Republicans redrew the U.S. House map with sprawling, nonsensical boundaries to pack Republican and Democratic voters into certain districts to ensure the party’s political dominance in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit claims.