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Gerrymandering ruling could alter Congressional districts

By Tom Jackson • May 9, 2019 at 2:00 PM

The U.S. representative for the “snake by the lake” district, running along the coast from Toledo to Cleveland, is praising a court ruling telling Ohio to redraw Congressional districts to eliminate partisan gerrymandering.

The ruling by three federal judges in Cincinnati declares Ohio’s district boundaries unconstitutional and orders Ohio to draw up new U.S. House maps by June 14 to be used in the 2020 election.

The decision is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which already has been working on appeals of similar rulings in other states.

The three federal judges ruled Ohio’s districts packed Democrats into as few districts as possible to give the Republican Party control of the state’s U.S. delegation.   

Huron County is divided into two House districts: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s Fourth District, which winds through much of northern and western Ohio and includes southern Erie County, and U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs’ Seventh District, which also includes Ashland, Coshocton, Holmes and Knox counties and parts of Lorain, Medina, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas counties. Both Congressmen are Republicans.

Erie County is divided into two House districts: U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s Ninth District, which runs along the Lake Erie shore from Toledo to Cleveland, and Jordan’s district.

Jordan did not react to the decision on his Twitter account, and his spokesman, Ian Fury, did not respond to a request for comment.

“Extreme radical partisan gerrymandering is about politicians picking their constituents. In a healthy democracy, constituents should be those who pick their elected leaders,” said  Kaptur, D-Toledo, whose district is referred to as the “snake by the lake.” She is a witness for the plaintiffs in the court battle.

“In Ohio, our deeply partisan and illegally drawn districts were gerrymandered by Republicans and for Republicans, not for the people. These districts were drawn without regard for existing communities or counties and purposefully diluted the votes of millions of Ohioans,” Kaptur added.

Although Ohio has trended Republican in recent elections, Democrats remain a strong presence. The Democratic candidate for governor, Rich Cordray, captured 46.7 percent of the vote in his losing campaign last year, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown won 53.4 percent while cruising to reelection.

But Ohio’s Congressional delegation doesn’t reflect that partisan balance. As a result of skillful gerrymandering, Ohio’s U.S. House delegation consists of 12 Republicans and just four Democrats.

The court ruling reveals Republicans actually considered a plan that would have created 13 GOP districts with narrower margins for victory but opted for 12 safer seats instead.

New U.S. House district lines are redrawn after each census, which apportions the House’s 435 seats based on the population of the 50 states. Following the 2010 census, Republicans dominating the Ohio General Assembly redrew the boundaries.

The Ohio Senate president, Sen. Larry Obhof, R-Medina, issued a statement pointing out Ohio already has a plan, approved in a state ballot issue, to use a more bipartisan process after the 2020 census. Obhof criticized the lawsuit that spawned the ruling as unfair and politically motivated.

“Ohio’s congressional districts were adopted with bipartisan, supermajority votes in each chamber of the state legislature. They have been in effect for nearly a decade and were already used for four election cycles. They are scheduled to be redrawn following the 2020 census, under a bipartisan process that the state senate spearheaded, and which Ohio voters adopted by a 3-to-1 margin last year,” Obhof said.

“Make no mistake, this politically-motivated lawsuit was brought for the sole purpose of helping Democrat candidates win more seats. It does so at the expense of Ohio’s voters, who would be forced to vote under three different congressional maps in four calendar years. That is bad public policy and is unfair to the people of Ohio,” said Obhof, who said he expects the U.S Supreme Court to reverse the ruling.

In their ruling, the judges wrote the new Ninth district put two sitting Democratic lawmakers, Kaptur and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, into one district. Kaptur defeated Kucinich in the resulting Democratic primary contest, which included a debate at BGSU Firelands, presented by the Sandusky Register, in front of a large crowd.

The decision refers to the Ninth District as “the infamous “Snake on the Lake” — an elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties.

The lawsuit was brought by 17 Ohio voters, several Democratic Party groups, the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (a black group affiliated with the AFL-CIO) and Ohio’s chapter of the League of Women Voters.

The defendants were Obhof, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and Frank LaRose, Ohio’s secretary of state. The lawsuit was filed on May 23, 2018.

“The court issued a meticulously detailed opinion, concluding that Ohio’s map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, and ordered the state to enact a new remedial plan by June 14,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for ACLU Ohio. “This opinion, declaring Ohio an egregiously gerrymandered state, completely validates every one of our claims and theories in every respect.

“The court rejected Ohio’s manipulated map, finding it an extreme gerrymander,” said Alora Thomas-Lundborg, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This decision follows the trial in which the map was rightly dubbed a ‘geographic monstrosity.’ This court joins others nationwide that have struck down this unconstitutional practice.”

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