By Rich Exner
Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich has joined the legal fight against gerrymandering, the political map-drawing process geared toward creating congressional and statehouse districts that sharply favor one party over the other.
In signing an amicus brief in a Wisconsin gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court, Kasich joined former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, all Republicans.
"As I've continued to serve in public office and watched our political divide deepen, I've grown increasingly concerned with how primaries are pushing candidates to the extreme right and extreme left, which is creating more polarization and division," Kasich said in a statement released by the governor's office.
"The Court has a unique opportunity in this case to support fair, common sense standards for how districts are drawn and put legislators in a better position to work together to effectively govern and get results."
Toledo Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur joined a bipartisan group of U.S. House of Representatives members who filed a separate brief that argued extreme partisan gerrymandering "puts raw partisan position ahead of maintaining coherent political communities and sensibly sized and shaped districts based on traditional districting criteria."
"A cascade of negative results predictably follows: artificially drawn "safe" districts make the general election uncompetitive and give party insiders and a small core of "base" primary voters wield greater influence than the general electorate," the brief continued. "Political parties gain influence and obstruct independent, constituent-first representation; compromise with the other side becomes politically impossible even when there are areas of principled agreement and even when the voters want it; and the People grow frustrated with the capacity of the House to govern effectively, causing disillusionment with and disengagement from our democratic process.
The Supreme Court in 1986 ruled that partisan gerrymandering violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, but left ambiguous the standard by which courts might rule on such claims.
A clearer answer on the limits of partisan gerrymandering could come soon from the Supreme Court in the Wisconsin case.
The court in June agreed to hear such a dispute out of Wisconsin, where Republicans won 61 percent of the Statehouse seats with just 49 percent of the vote. The case involves Republican map-drawing efforts to sharply reduce Democratic representation.
Kasich has encouraged the Ohio legislature to change the way Ohio goes about drawing congressional district lines, but the legislature has not acted.
Separately, the Ohio legislature did put a proposal before voters, which was approved in 2015, to change how state legislative districts will be drawn after the next census.
The congressional lines in Ohio are drawn after each census, with the approval of the Ohio House, Ohio Senate and the governor. There is no requirement to design districts based on geography. The result under the current maps has been 12 strongly Republican districts and four heavily Democrat districts.
Reporter Sabrina Eaton from cleveland.com's Washington Bureau contributed to this report.
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