Ohio Supreme Court allows Dems’ redistricting objection
Attorney Phillip Strach speaks before the Ohio Supreme Court in December, arguing for the constitutionality of legislative district maps. The court heard arguments on three cases asking it to reject the maps approved in September. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)
The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a request by the state’s Attorney General to reduce Democratic redistricting leaders’ court filing to a “friends of the court” brief.
In a short ruling released Friday evening, the court denied a motion to convert the brief, filed by Ohio Redistricting Commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and House Minority Leader and commission member Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington.
Russo and Sykes filed the objection to the newest legislative redistricting maps without an attorney, which they said was the fault of Attorney General Dave Yost. The Democrats say he refused to allow them to consult attorneys for the Ice Miller law firm.
Yost asked that the brief be considered amicus of “friend of the court” brief rather than an official response by state officials. “Friend of the court” briefs are typically filed by non-parties in lawsuits, who want to provide the court input but aren’t necessarily connected to the case.
The ruling by the supreme court did grant Yost’s motion for “limited intervention” in the case, meaning he maintains his position as a legal representative for all state officials in the lawsuits. Yost told the court the limited intervention was needed “to protect his powers as Chief Law Officer of the State of Ohio.”
He said Russo and Sykes are being sued in their official capacities, therefore filing court documents saying they don’t have an attorney undermines his authority.
Russo and Sykes are both mentioned in the lawsuit as members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, along with Governor Mike DeWine, Senate President Matt Huffman, House Speaker (and commission co-chair) Bob Cupp, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor was the only justice to differ from the majority in the ruling. O’Connor, it was noted, would have denied the motion for Yost to intervene in addition to denying the conversion of the Democratic brief.
Russo released a statement saying she was “relieved to see that a fair process is continuing in the courts.”
“Now, we wait the Court’s decision on the submitted maps and let the process play out with greater transparency,” Russo said in the statement.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission revised the legislative maps with a 5-2 vote along party lines in January after the court sent them back to the drawing board, calling their original plan unconstitutional.
Republicans commission members responded to objections made by the League of Women Voters, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and a group of Ohio residents. They said they made appropriate attempts to get to the court’s desired 54% GOP to 46% Dem split, based on statewide voter preferences for the last 10 years.
The maps sent back to the court have a 57-42 split.
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