Ohio AG wants Supreme Court to limit Dem redistricting response

By: - February 1, 2022 3:50 am

Courtesy of the Ohio Supreme Court

The state Attorney General is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to treat the response of Democratic members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission differently than the official response of the ORC.

In a filing Monday afternoon, AG Dave Yost asked the court to convert a response by Democratic members of the commission to an “amici curiae” filing, a legal term meaning “friend of the court,” typically used when outside groups or individuals not necessarily connected to the case want to give their input or expertise.

“No individual member was authorized to file in their official capacity,” Yost wrote to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Democratic brief filed by ORC co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, was in response to objections to revised legislative redistricting maps adopted in early January.

The maps were adopted by a simple majority 5-2 vote along party lines, making them effective for four years if approved by the state’s high court.

Objections rolled in within the three-day window the court allowed, with all three parties in the original lawsuits against the legislative maps arguing that the revised maps still did not fulfill the requirements of the constitutional amendment overhauling redistricting.

The Ohio Supreme Court had asked the ORC to revise the maps after finding them unconstitutional the first time around.

Russo and Sykes sided with the objectors in the response, saying not only that the maps were gerrymandered and unconstitutional, but that the process had kept them from contributing, and placed the blame directly on the GOP members of the commission.

The court filing, which was filed “pro se” – meaning filed without an attorney – also touched on accusations that Yost had blocked the Democrats’ from their attorneys in responding.

Yost said in his brief to the court that he decided that “only the Redistricting Commission itself should respond” to the objections.

He said the Dem response was “an unauthorized filing on behalf of a state entity” and said no Republican member of the commission or caucus for either political party was allowed by the court to make a separate filing with the court, therefore the Russo/Sykes filing shouldn’t be considered by the court as elected officials filing in that capacity.

He also said the claims in the response that Russo and Sykes were denied legal counsel were “false.”

“At all relevant times, the minority members of the commission have had counsel,” Yost wrote.

The counsel from the Ice Miller law firm who were listed as representatives for the two Democratic members withdrew their representation on Jan. 28, just before the official ORC response appeared. Yost said this was at the request of Russo and Sykes, and that an assistant attorney general was “specifically tasked with representing Russo and Sykes should they have decided not to engage outside counsel.”

Yost went so far as to say allowing Russo and Sykes to continue with their response “will cause this court…to be flooded with multiple, competing filings offering the purported legal positions of the state…thereby depriving the Attorney General of his longstanding statutory and inherent power to ensure the state speaks with one voice – or multiple voices only when so authorized.”

As of Monday afternoon, the court had not issued an ruling on the motion. The justices are also still deciding whether or not the revised maps will stand.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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