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Ohio Congressional Map Tossed Out for Partisan Gerrymandering

It’s the second state in a week, after Michigan, in which judges said a GOP-drawn map violated voters’ constitutional rights.

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The map was passed by Ohio’s GOP legislators and approved by then-Gov. John Kasich., John Minchillo/AP

Federal judges in Ohio have thrown out the state’s Republican-drawn congressional map — the latest lower court to rule that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional while awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

A three-judge panel for the Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati ruled that the map passed by Ohio’s GOP legislators and approved by then-Gov. John Kasich violated voters’ 1st and 14th amendment rights, writing that “partisan discrimination against Democratic voters was the predominant intent in the creation of each congressional district” and of the map as a whole.

“We join the other federal that have held partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional and developed substantially similar standards for adjudicating such claims,” wrote the judges. “We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity.”

The ruling comes a week after a three-judge panel in neighboring Michigan ruled that state’s congressional districts — also drawn by Republicans after the 2010 census — were also unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

However, the ultimate outcome of both decisions will almost certainly hinge on cases argued before the Supreme Court in March from Maryland and North Carolina, in which judges had tossed both congressional maps for partisan gerrymandering. The high court’s conservative majority signaled during oral arguments that it might be uncomfortable with judicial efforts to rein in partisan gerrymandering.

In Ohio, the district court judges ruled that Ohio’s state Legislature must redraw the congressional map by June 14. But it’s likely Republicans will ask the Supreme Court to set aside the ruling.

Republicans have dominated Ohio’s congressional delegation since the map was enacted in 2011, winning 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats in all four elections held under the map. But their successes have also come as Ohio has trended more Republican statewide, too, with the party controlling the governor’s mansion throughout the decade and President Donald Trump carrying the state in 2016.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, the next round of redistricting in Ohio after the 2020 census will be conducted under reforms passed by voters in a ballot measure last year.

Unlike the 2011 map, which was passed mostly along party lines, the state Legislature will be able to pass a new map only if a 60 percent supermajority approves it, including at least half the members of the minority party. If the Legislature can’t pass a map, a commission of state officeholders will be formed to draw a new map, though any map would still require some support from the minority party.

If all that fails, the Legislature could pass a map on a party-line vote. But it would take effect for only four years, not the full decade.

All of these changes don’t take effect until 2021, however.

The three federal judges who signed the opinion are Karen Nelson Moore, appointed by President Bill Clinton; Timothy Black, appointed by President Barack Obama; and Michael Watson, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Moore is an appellate judge serving on the 6th Circuit; Black and Watson are federal district judges in southern Ohio.