A unanimous panel of federal judges on Friday declared Ohio's Republican-drawn congressional map unconstitutional, a ruling similar to those in a number of states where partisan gerrymandering has been outlawed. The judges said Republicans set district lines to unfairly disadvantage Democrats, and the state must redraw them by August 1.
"Democratic candidates must run a significantly longer distance to get to the same finish line", the judges wrote in a 301-page ruling. The state's current congressional map was created under secrecy in 2011, with Ohio's legislatures under Republican control.
At the oral arguments, the conservative justices who make up the Supreme Court's majority seemed skeptical that the court could find a manageable test for deciding when politics plays an unconstitutional role in mapdrawing.
State Attorney General Dave Yost said Friday the state will seek a stay of the ruling while appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Ohioans have been clamoring for change to our electoral maps since they voted to pass Issue 1 in May 2018 and today their voices have been heard".
To many Democratic voters in the Buckeye State, the GOP's apparent hammerlock on three-quarters of Ohio's House delegation reflects a partisan gerrymander so severe it violates their constitutional rights.
"In this case, the bottom line is that the dominant party in state government manipulated district lines in an attempt to control electoral outcomes and thus direct the political ideology of the state's congressional delegation", the judges' ruling reads. And that, in turn, could influence the White House race. "It's a bad day for Republicans in Washington, and it's a bad day for Donald Trump".
Ohio's current map was drawn in 2011 by Republican state lawmakers, with input from party consultants in a Columbus hotel room. "When Democrats can't win at the ballot box, they try to change the rules".
The judges - two nominated by Democratic presidents, one by a Republican - ordered a proposed new map by June 14. They were in House 1 until OH lost two seats in Congress because of US population shifts recorded in the 2010 census.
Voters' rights and Democratic groups who sued Ohio Republican officials said redistricting completed after the 2010 Census yielded a statewide map that has produced an unbending 12-4 Republican advantage in Ohio's delegation. Among the examples cited was Cincinnati, a Democrat-dominated city split into two districts, both held by Republicans.
Her district, dubbed "the Snake by the Lake" because of its odd shape, stretches along Lake Erie across multiple counties. The judges described it as "a freaky, elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties".
In the OH case, Democratic voters from each of Ohio's 16 districts, as well as two non-partisan and three Democratic organizations challenged the map drawn by a GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 and first used in 2012.
"These national Republicans generated some of the key strategic ideas for the map, maximizing its likely pro-Republican performance, and had the authority to approve changes to the map before their OH counterparts implemented them", the judge write. House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) and Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) are urging Republican leaders of the General Assembly to comply with the court's ruling.
The lawsuit challenging Ohio's map called it "one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history", one that has reliably done its job by allowing the GOP to capture 75% of the seats by winning a little more than half the state's votes.
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