Voting rights groups' lawsuit against Ohio heads to trial

Posted at 11:19 AM, Mar 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-04 12:30:20-05

CINCINNATI (AP) — Voting rights groups that charge that Ohio's congressional map was unfairly manipulated by state Republicans will have their say in federal court.

The trial for a lawsuit filed last year against state officials is scheduled to open Monday in Cincinnati, with a panel of three U.S. district judges presiding. The suit challenges the district maps that are in effect through 2020, alleging "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander" that violates voters' rights to democratically select their representatives.

The suit could result in new district maps for the 2020 elections to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"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."

The plaintiffs include groups such as the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Democratic organizations, and Democratic voters in GOP-held districts.

The state has argued that the Democrats haven't been unfairly affected since Republicans held 13 of Ohio's seats in the U.S. House — compared to the Democrats' five — before the redistricting. The state's delegation lost two seats due to reapportionment after the 2010 census.

"On its face, this is not an 'injury," and it is certainly not an injury 'fairly traceable' to the congressional map," said a state motion to dismiss the suit filed by Republican Mike DeWine when he was still attorney general. DeWine is now Ohio's governor.

The state also argued that the lawsuit is untimely, with the next census only a year away.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has said the challenge to the current 10-year map was made last year because the legal landscape has changed after other legal rulings addressing partisan gerrymandering. A North Carolina case is before the U.S. Supreme Court this month.

A federal appeals court last month rejected Ohio's request to delay the trial pending Supreme Court action on redistricting because of the need for time to potentially redraw the districts before the 2020 House elections if the plaintiffs prevail.

Ohio voters last year approved Issue 1, which changes Ohio's system for congressional map-making starting with the next census. Voting rights groups say that doesn't mean Ohioans should have to wait until after another election to get fairly drawn districts.