May 3 (UPI) -- A three-judge federal panel ruled Friday that Ohio's congressional district map is unconstitutional and called for a new map by the 2020 election.
The judges of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which said in testimony that Democratic voters are unfairly placed in some districts and split between others, diluting the party's political power. The drawing of the congressional lines hindered opportunities for the Democratic Party to win seats in Congress.
"We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity," the ruling said. "The 2012 map dilutes the votes of Democratic voters by packing and cracking them into districts that are so skewed toward one party that the electoral outcome is predetermined."
The judges concluded that state legislators overstepped their authority in drawing lines that benefited Republican candidates. The ruling is similar to one issued last week in Michigan in which state and congressional district lines were struck down.
Pennsylvania's 2018 elections were held using a new congressional map after the state Supreme Court ordered a redistricting, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon rule gerrymandering cases in Maryland and North Carolina.
Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to limit the extent of a majority party's power to draw congressional lines. It would begin in 2022, with new census data, but the lawsuit attempted to force a change by 2020. The state's current congressional map was created under secrecy in 2011, with Ohio's legislatures under Republican control. It nearly assures GOP control of the state's congressional representatives, with 12 reliably Republican districts and four solidly Democratic districts.
Although a legislators' appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court is anticipated, a voters' rights group hailed the decision Friday.
"This ruling is a victory for every Ohio voter, because a fair congressional map before the 2020 means a stronger democracy for the Buckeye State," said Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.