The United States Supreme Court this week ruled 5-4 in Rucho v. Common Cause, North Carolina and Maryland’s gerrymandering case, that the courts cannot interfere with states’ electoral districting processes. In other words, the current congressional and state-level maps in Ohio will remain until the regularly scheduled redistricting in 2022 after the 2020 census.
Why does this case apply to Ohio?
On May 3, a bipartisan panel of three federal judges (two appointed by a Democratic President, one by a Republican) had ruled that the current map of U.S. congressional districts in Ohio is unconstitutional. If that decision had held, Ohio would have needed to draw a new map by mid-June, in effect for the 2020 election.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost immediately submitted a request for a stay to the same Cincinnati-area lower federal court, which was subsequently denied. He then took the case to the Supreme Court. Based on this broad ruling given in Rucho v. Common Cause, Ohio’s case is expected to be dismissed.
Since districts are drawn based on population data from the census every 10 years, Ohio would have had to redraw a new set of electoral maps early, specifically for the 2020 election before they would have had to be reworked again soon after in 2022.
Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond
Ohioans had overwhelmingly approved standalone ballot issues several years ago that put in place new anti-gerrymandering rules that would be in effect for the next redistricting. The new rules require bipartisan approval of new electoral maps.
Groups pushing to eliminate gerrymandering practices did not quite hit a dead-end in their fight, however. Chief Justice John Roberts even wrote in the decision that States can enact changes, either putting the process in the hands of an independent commission or specifying criteria maps must follow. Alternately, Congress can change the redistricting process, as allowed by the Constitution’s Elections Clause. So, don’t expect this issue to go away any time soon.