ACLU Files Federal Lawsuit Over Ohio's Congressional Districts

May 23, 2018

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit over Ohio's Congressional districts, challenging the current map as "unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering." 

Using Gov. John Kasich's own words opposing gerrymandering, the ACLU's suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati seeks to overturn district maps in effect through 2020.

"We're seeking a declaration from the court that the current map is uncostitutional, and we're seeking an order from the court that a new map be drawn," says Freda Levinson, legal director of the Ohio ACLU.

Ohio's current map was drawn in 2011 by Republican state lawmakers, with input from party consultants but none from the Democratic minority, in a Columbus hotel room known as "The Bunker."

The result is that Ohio, a state that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and President Trump in 2016, has 12 Republican districts and just four Democratic ones.

Levinson said the suit hits the "sweet spot" in the life of the 10-year map, because data is available to show how the maps routinely deliver 75 percent of Ohio's Congressional seats to Republicans with only about half Ohio's votes.

Earlier this month, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1, a constitutional amendment to change how the state draws Congressional maps after the 2020 Census. The ACLU did not take a stance against or in favor of Issue 1, saying it wouldn't entirely stop gerrymandering.

"It doesn't come into effect until after the next Census in 2020, wouldn't affect the drawing of any map until 2021, and wouldn't affect any election until 2022," Levenson says.

Kasich, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, and Ohio House Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring are named as defendants in the suit

Though he signed Ohio's current map into law, Kasich submitted an amicus brief opposing GOP gerrymandering in Wisconsin, as part of a U.S. Supreme Court case last fall. That brief is now being cited by the ACLU in their federal lawsuit.

The Ohio League of Women Voters, one of the citizen groups behind Issue 1, also joined the ACLU in its lawsuit. The group says it's committed to the bipartisan redistricting process, but hopes to see redrawn maps before 2020.

Next door in Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a GOP-drawn Congressional map and instituted its own, independently-drawn map. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up lawsuits against both the ruling and the new map, leaving it in place for 2018 elections.