The U.S. Supreme Court made official Monday what was already a foregone conclusion: Ohio won’t get a new congressional district map until 2022.
The court vacated the decision in May by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati that set a deadline for the Ohio General Assembly to draw new district boundaries for the 2020 election.
The lower court now must reconsider the case, filed in 2018 by voting rights advocates, under the umbrella of the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer that partisan gerrymandering is a political question that cannot fall to the federal courts.
The 5-4 majority in that ruling sent cases in Maryland and North Carolina back to the lower courts with instructions to dismiss. A similar case in Ohio now looks to follow suit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and the League of Women Voters of Ohio had argued in May 2018 that the current map was the product of partisan gerrymandering and that a new map was needed ahead of the 2020 election.
In May, the three-judge panel ruled in their favor, setting a June 14 deadline to redraw the lines. But Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which already had heard arguments in gerrymander cases in North Carolina and Maryland.
The court ruled in June that the gerrymander question is outside the purview of the federal court system, though, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority that states and Congress can pass laws to deal with gerrymandering.
“Unfortunately, since the Supreme Court held that federal courts may offer no remedy for partisan gerrymandering, this dictates the inevitable dismissal of our case. This does not impugn the trial court’s detailed findings, or its conclusion that the Ohio’s map was an extreme partisan gerrymander; it just means that the federal court system is powerless to do anything about this,” said Freda Levenson, ACLU Ohio’s legal director, in an email.
Ohioans approved a ballot initiative to change its process for drawing congressional boundaries in 2018. That requires new lines to be drawn through a bipartisan process for 2022 elections, when Ohio is expected to lose one of its 16 congressional seats because of slow population growth.
Republicans now hold 12 of the 16 congressional seats.
“Reinvigorating our republic starts with fair legislative redistricting. A faithful execution of the law by commission members will make Ohio a national leader in a movement that can transform government to better work for the people, by the people,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a prepared statement.