POLITICS
06/10/2018 08:00 am ET

John Kasich, Rare Outspoken GOP Gerrymandering Critic, Faces A Test At Home

A lawsuit is seeking to strike down a congressional map the Ohio governor signed into law, saying it is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) really doesn’t like gerrymandering.

Over the last few years, Kasich has staked out an unusual position among his party by opposing partisan gerrymandering. Recently, he’s joined “friend of the court” briefs in two cases that call on the U.S. Supreme Court to step in for the first time and set limits on excessive partisan gerrymandering.

Kasich’s position is notable because Republicans currently benefit from gerrymandering in Ohio and across the country. Despite that advantage, in one of their briefs to the Supreme Court, Kasich and other Republicans were unsparing in their criticism of partisan gerrymandering, saying it was “repugnant to the Constitution” and makes a “mockery of our republican government.”

″[Partisan gerrymandering] entrenches political parties against popular will; it polarizes legislatures and creates gridlock; and it engenders voter cynicism about a political system that has been rigged to achieve predetermined electoral results, potentially in opposition to their will,” they wrote. “Politicians now select their voters, instead of voters electing politicians.”

Now, Kasich is in an awkward spot as the battle over partisan gerrymandering comes to Ohio. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union sued to strike down Ohio’s congressional map. It says legislators gerrymandered the map to considerably benefit Republicans and that this redistricting violated the U.S. Constitution. Kasich, who signed the map into law, has said little about the suit. As it moves forward, Kasich is in the strange position of being a Republican vocally opposed to gerrymandering while also being a defendant in a case that involves a gerrymandered, GOP-friendly map he signed into law.

Kasich hasn’t commented publicly on the suit, but Jim Lynch, a Kasich spokesman, said the governor was examining it. When HuffPost asked whether Kasich believed Ohio’s current congressional map was constitutional, another spokesman highlighted Kasich’s past opposition to gerrymandering. This included his support for a bipartisan compromise to change the way Ohio draws its congressional districts. In 2017, he said partisan gerrymandering contributes to polarization and called the practice “horrific.”

Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said he didn’t think it was unusual that Kasich had been quiet since the suit was filed.

“He’s the name defendant in the case so I wouldn’t expect him to say anything favoring or supportive of the plaintiffs,” Li said in an email. “On the other hand, it’s common for defendants in these cases to issue a strongly worded statement defending a challenged map. Kasich hasn’t done that - and that may be the most telling thing.”

Republicans controlled both chambers of the Ohio legislature and the governor’s mansion during the last round of congressional redistricting and drew a map that gave Republicans a significant electoral advantage. Since 2012, a year when former President Barack Obama carried the state in the presidential election, Republicans have won the same 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats, while winning between 51 and 59 percent of the statewide vote.

In its Ohio complaint, the ACLU quoted repeatedly from a friend of the court brief Kasich joined urging the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and strike down Wisconsin’s state Assembly map because it was too gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. Since 2012, in Wisconsin, Republicans have consistently won at least 60 of the state’s 99 Assembly seats while winning about 50 percent of the vote. The brief Kasich joined called Wisconsin’s map the “most egregious form of partisan gerrymander – one that was enacted for the sole purpose of entrenching one political party.”

Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, said the facts in Ohio showed a map that was arguably more gerrymandered than the one in Wisconsin.

“If that was distorted enough for him to call it egregious in Wisconsin, what word is he going to use for Ohio?” she said in an interview. “It’s even more egregious.”

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