ACLU sues over Ohio congressional districts

By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press

COLUMBUS (AP) — The ACLU filed a constitutional challenge to Ohio’s congressional map on Wednesday, using Republican Gov. John Kasich’s statements opposing gerrymandering as ammunition.

A suit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati challenges district maps in effect through 2020 for “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander” that violates voters’ rights to democratically select their representatives. The action is not intended to impact the maps used in this fall’s elections, but it could have an impact on maps for 2020.

“The current Ohio map is one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history,” the suit states. “The map was designed to create an Ohio congressional delegation with a 12 to 4 Republican advantage — and lock it in for a decade. It has performed exactly as its architects planned, including in 2012, when (Democratic) President Barack Obama won the state.”

The plaintiffs say their action is unrelated to Ohio voters’ approval May 8 of Issue 1, which changes Ohio’s system for congressional map-making starting with the next census.

ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson said the 10-year map is being challenged now — so late in the decade — because the legal landscape has changed, with courts laying out clear guidelines for proving partisan manipulation.

Also, she said, 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.

“It’s the sweet spot in the decade to sue because we don’t have to prove that it was going to happen — it’s already happened,” she said.

The suit is filed against Kasich, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted and leaders of Ohio’s GOP-controlled state Legislature on behalf of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and a number of registered Ohio voters who are Democrats.

Kasich, who doesn’t hesitate to break from his party, has been outspoken on the need to fix maps created for partisan advantage that are widely seen as contributing to political divisions in Washington.

He filed an amicus brief in the Gill v. Whitford redistricting case that the ACLU cites in its filing. Kasich wrote that “partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, are harming our republican government, and readily can be identified and addressed by courts.”

Husted, a former House speaker and candidate for lieutenant governor, also has long championed changes to Ohio’s system for map-making.

Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, which helped lead the Issue 1 effort, said “even one more election using gerrymandered districts is too many.”

“This litigation may give Ohioans the fair districts they deserve in 2020 and may strengthen the protections of Issue 1 in the next redistricting cycle,” she said.

The ACLU has requested the case be heard by a three-judge panel, as federal law allows in redistricting cases. Levenson said that presumably allows for expedited decisions that will have minimal impact on ongoing election processes. Any appeal would go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press