Ohio Redistricting Commission members maintain innocence on contempt

By: - May 9, 2022 3:50 am

The Republican majority members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission in 2021 and 2022. Top row from left, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Bottom row from left Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, House Speaker Bob Cupp, and Senate President Matt Huffman. Official photos.

Current and former members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission have defended themselves against allegations of contempt of the Ohio Supreme Court, despite saying the claims are moot now that the commission has adopted a map before the deadline.

Court challengers had asked the Ohio Supreme Court to revisit contempt allegations in legislative redistricting cases. The request came at the end of April, well before the May 6 deadline the supreme court gave the commission to adopt a new map.

The ACLU filed the challenge on behalf of anti-gerrymandering groups like the League of Women Voters of Ohio. The request acknowledged that the deadline had not passed for the ORC, but that the situation’s urgency – passing legislative maps to be used for an Aug. 2 primary – had “dramatically increased” with the decision by a federal court to use the third set of maps adopted by the commission if no map is approved by May 28.

But GOP commission members argued in recent court filings that just because plaintiffs wanted a quicker process doesn’t mean the commission has to listen.

“The only deadline this Court set in that order was the May 6, 2022, deadline to file the ‘entirely new General Assembly-district plan’ that the reconstituted and convened Commission drafts and adopts,” wrote attorneys for Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp.

The commission – minus Huffman and Cupp, who replaced themselves with other legislators for the last two days before the deadline – passed a map on Thursday, prior to the May 6 deadline, but even they didn’t argue that the maps were “entirely new,” as ordered by the court. It was the same maps the commission had passed in their third, February attempt, and has already been rejected by the court as unconstitutional.

When the ORC filed the maps it passed with the supreme court, the filing was called a “notice of resubmission of the February 24, 2022, General Assembly plan.”

Regarding contempt, commission members also accuse the lawsuit’s plaintiffs of urging the supreme court to order punishments that would violate separations of powers between the legislative and judicial branches, and that would require the state’s highest court to commit government overreach.

“Their real objective is to provoke this Court into asserting control over the Commission and the manner in which it adopts a district plan,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in his response to the contempt allegations.

LaRose said the separation of powers doctrine “prohibits this Court from controlling the manner in which the Commission conducts business and adopts a General Assembly district plan.”

Gov. Mike DeWine agreed with other GOP members of the commission in saying individual members of the commission can’t be held liable for decisions of the whole. He compared a vote of the ORC to enactment of a law in the legislature in saying individual lawmakers, or for that matter, the governor, can’t be held to account in court for decisions made by the legislative body.

Auditor Keith Faber went so far as to call the redistricting commission “effectively its own branch of government, tasked with the legislative task of apportionment,” making it even less appropriate for its members to be held in contempt.

Now that the commission has met and passed maps, the members say contempt allegations are “moot” and should be dismissed.

“Because the commission met and has not violated any deadline or directive of this Court, there is no actual and justiciable controversy,” LaRose stated.

Democratic members of the commission, state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Minority Leader Allison Russo said the time had passed for the request, but said they “understand and share” the plaintiff’s frustrations.

“The Court provided the Commission ample time—22 days—to carry out those orders. The Republican Commissioners have wasted nearly all that time,” Russo and Sykes’ attorneys wrote.



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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 (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.