by Logan Cook, staff writer
JANUARY 2022 — The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the congressional map for the 2022-2032 election cycle to be unconstitutional. The map was drawn by the Republican controlled Ohio General Assembly and must be redrawn by Feb. 13. The map was determined to be unconstitutional gerrymandering based on 2015 and 2018 constitutional amendments.
In the Jan. 14 ruling, the court voted 4-3 to send the map back into litigation. Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor voted against the map, joining the court’s three Democrat justices as the majority. The three dissenting votes were from Republican justices.
“A party that musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75 percent to 85 percent of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation,” wrote Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat, as part of the court’s majority decision. “By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up.”
The map was drawn as part of the 2022 redistricting process; a process state legislatures undergo to redraw their congressional districts based on data of the most recent Census. The United States Census Bureau’s website defines congressional districts as “the 435 [geographic] areas from which members are elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The redistricting process garners controversy due to a state legislature’s ability to draw districts that increase a party’s political advantage. This process is called gerrymandering, defined on the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) website as “when the lines are drawn to manipulate the boundaries to predetermine the outcome of elections, hindering voters from voicing their interests through their votes.”
On the ACLU website, it says in its mission statement that it is a nonpartisan group that focuses on civil rights advocacy. The ACLU has filed lawsuits against both political parties for gerrymandering, including Benisek v. Lamone, where it supported Republican voters who protested against redistricted congressional lines, and in Gill v. Whitford, where it supported Democratic voters.
Ohio’s current congressional map includes 16 districts, four of which have a Democrat representative, and 12 have a Republican representative. The map, drawn and put into effect by a Republican controlled Ohio General Assembly in 2012, fell under heavy scrutiny from the ACLU. The ACLU filed a lawsuit to retract and edit the map in 2018, citing that the map “packed” Democrats into four districts and “splits the Democratic vote in the remaining districts to dilute their votes — a tactic known as ‘cracking.’”
The ACLU cited Ohio Congressional District Nine as an example of packing. The district follows the Lake Erie shoreline, and includes five counties, but no county in whole. Democratic Candidate Marcy Kaptur has won every election cycle since 1982, including the entire lifespan of the 2012-2022 map. In 2018, she won 67.8 percent of the vote. The ACLU also cited Ohio Congressional District One as an example of cracking. The district is located in the Southwest portion of the state, and includes a portion of Wayne County and the entirety of Warren County. Since 2010, Republican Candidate Steve Chabot has won every election cycle. However, before the implementation of the 2012-2022 map, Democratic Candidate Steve Driehaus won the district in 2008. The ACLU argued these districts were uncompetitive, and suppressed the votes of Democrat populations.
To combat issues brought forth by the ACLU, along with other politicians and organizations, the Congressional Redistricting Procedures Amendment was introduced in Ohio. The amendment was placed on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections, being approved by 74.89 percent of Ohio voters. This amendment put a new voting procedure in place for the Ohio General Assembly to approve congressional district maps. If the map at first does not garner bipartisan support, it must undergo revisions. If it still does not have bipartisan support, but has a majority vote in the Ohio General Assembly, the map will stay in place for four years instead of 10.
The 2018 Amendment expanded on the 2015 Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment, also approved by Ohio voters, with 71.47 percent supporting the amendment. The amendment created a seven-person bipartisan drawing committee, with at least two minority party members, to replace the previous five person drawing committees that were not required to include minority party members. In addition, the amendment laid out guidelines for the committee on the drawing of districts; all districts must be of “contiguous territory, and the boundary of each district [must] be a single nonintersecting continuous line.” This prevented the splitting apart of major urban areas in the districting process, such as District One of the 2012-2022 map.
The Ohio Supreme Court cited these two amendments when deciding the constitutionality of the map. The Court said the Republican controlled General Assembly ignored the criteria set forth by the amendments. The court did not cite any specific examples of gerrymandering within the map.
“Ohio Republicans purposefully drew gerrymandered maps in spite of redistricting reforms — and they did so because they thought they could get away with it,” said Chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and former Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement about the court ruling. “Republicans underestimated the will of the people and the strength of the reforms, and in the end democracy has prevailed.”
The court ruling did not provide a clear answer on if the redrawing of the map will delay Ohio’s May 3 primary elections. Ohio congressional candidates must still register with state officials by March 4 to be included in the ballot.
The ACLU, The League of Women Voters Kent Chapter, and the office of Representative Tim Ryan did not respond to The Hive’s request for comment.