The United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments Tuesday on a pair of cases that could lead to the Ohio electoral map being completely redrawn. The two cases, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisekm, could both set precedents that could supersede a similar Ohio case making its way to the Supreme Court.
On August 5, 2016, Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party, and a group of voters filed a complaint against Robert A. Rucho “in his official capacity as Chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting Committee,” and several other key members who presided over the drawing of the 2016 North Carolina congressional map. The complaint alleged that the map is an:
unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violates the First Amendment (Count I), the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count II), and Article I, section 2 of the Constitution of the United States (Count III), and also to declare that in adopting the 2016 Plan the legislature exceeded the authority granted by Article I, section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that state legislatures “determine the times, places and manner of election” of members of the U.S. House of Representatives (Count IV).
They also alleged that Democratic votes in North Carolina have been “diluted or nullified as a result of the unconstitutional gerrymander.” Common Cause, a national non-profit watchdog group maintains that it is a non-partisan organization, citing its work against a similar Democratic gerrymander in Maryland.
That case in Maryland is now also being considered by the Supreme Court.
Lamone v. Benisek is being led by Stephen Shapiro, a Common Cause member who lives in Maryland. He is alleging that, following the 2010 census, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, with the support of the Democratic legislature, redrew a congressional map specifically to give Maryland Democrats an additional congressional district. The map they drew shifted Democratic voters based in the Washington suburbs into the Sixth District of Maryland, which turned control of it from Republicans to Democrats. Ohio, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, are currently in the midst of their own congressional battles.
The Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and a group of Ohio residents filed suit contenting Ohio’s 2011 congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment and Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs argue the map was intentionally designed to give Republicans an 12-4 advantage and entrench their power over the course of the decade. This skewed partisan advantage, the suit argues, prevents large segments of Ohio’s voters from having their votes meaningfully reflected in their congressional delegation.
The state of Ohio has already held a vote that will compel the congressional map to be redrawn. If this map is ruled an unconstitutional gerrymander, it will force a rewrite that would come before the 2020 election. The cases from North Carolina and Maryland are a potential “canary in the coal mine” that will set the tone for Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and any future gerrymander cases before 2020.
Ohio, long regarded as a critical swing state in national elections, could have the presidential election of 2020 decided by these cases.
– – –
Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].