Redistricting of Ohio: the fate of the Congress map

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The fate of Ohio’s final congressional card — and the May 3 primary — rests in the hands of the state’s seven Supreme Court justices.

But even those who oppose the card disagree on what should happen next.

The map, approved by Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2, would give Republicans at least 10 of 15 seats in Congress. Two districts — the 9th, which includes Toledo, and the 1st, which stretches from Cincinnati to Warren County — have been billed as Democratic districts but are still fiercely competitive.

Two groups have filed lawsuits against the card – former Democratic US Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Action Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, representing a host of good government groups.

Holder’s group wants the Ohio Supreme Court to reject the entire map, postpone the May 3 primary, and choose a new constitutional map, perhaps from among those submitted by Ohioans.

“At this point, the Driving Commission cannot be trusted,” wrote attorney Don McTigue, one of many defending the position of the National Redistricting Action Fund.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission approved this map for Ohio's 15 congressional districts.

But the ACLU of Ohio has a more modest request for the court: Tell lawmakers or the commission to fix two problem districts. These districts are Cincinnati’s 1st and 15th, which stretch from the southern border of Franklin County through Shelby and Miami counties north of Dayton.

“The fixes are simple,” wrote Freda Levenson, attorney for the ACLU of Ohio. By keeping the district of Cincinnati in Hamilton County and drawing a more compact district around Franklin County, mapmakers would easily create districts that don’t disenfranchise Democrats.

This group does not want the Supreme Court of Ohio to implement its own plan. Levenson called it “premature at this point”.

Republicans who control the Ohio Redistricting Commission have another suggestion: accept the map as passed.

Republican legislative leaders argued their map was constitutional, in part because the Ohio Redistricting Commission did not need to follow language in the Ohio Constitution that prevented mapmakers from improperly favoring one party compared to the other.

Their attorney, Phillip Strach, also wrote that the Ohio Supreme Court could not move the primary, should not spoil the election so close to the distribution of ballots, and could not impose its own map.

Will the United States Supreme Court be involved?

Another factor to consider is the highest court in the land, which dealt a blow to Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania on Monday. The judges did not step in to block Congressional cards selected by the highest courts in those states.

The high court had previously left a congressional map of Alabama in place despite complaints that it could dilute the black vote there — indicating some deference to states that run their own maps.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliate news organizations in Ohio.

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