Redistricting commission again answers for contempt charges

Dems ask to be spared, but say “no other reasonable choice” for GOP

By: - May 13, 2022 3:50 am

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 Redistricting Commission has yet again responded to requests of the Ohio Supreme Court to hold members in contempt for their actions on legislative redistricting.

The state supreme court asked that co-chairs state Rep. Jeff LaRe and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, along with the other members, Gov. Mike DeWine, state Sen. Rob McColley, Auditor Keith Faber, House Minority Leader Allison Russo and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, to respond by Thursday morning to legislative map challenger’s requests that the court hold members in contempt for not committing to court-ordered directives on creating a redistricting plan.

GOP members have previously said they shouldn’t be held in contempt because they fulfilled their duty in submitting maps to the Ohio Supreme Court, and theirs roles as members of the legislative branch protect them from contempt by the judiciary branch.

This time, though they admit they did not submit an “entirely new” map as dictated by the court, commissioners say they fulfilled the duty prescribed by a U.S. District Court panel in a federal court case asking for federal intervention in the redistricting process, therefore aren’t in danger of contempt.

“The commission resubmitted Map 3 consistent with the federal court’s pronouncements in Gonidakis, et. al. v. LaRose,” the secretary of state wrote in his contempt response.

The federal three-judge panel has said if new maps aren’t agreed to by state officials by May 28, they will implement the third map, already found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Matching statements made by LaRose in comments to the federal court and to the Ohio Redistricting Commission during its last round of meetings, the court said the maps would be implemented because they are the only maps currently in the system.

LaRose said he ordered them to be input into the county boards of election systems after they were adopted the first time, where they stayed as the redistricting chaos rumbled on.

Maintaining the argument other Republican commissioners have also made, LaRose said separation of powers doctrine “serves to restrain this court from forcing a group of independent, co-equal officeholders to yield to this court’s direction and will in formulating the composition of Ohio’s electoral maps.”

LaRe and McColley, who filed jointly, said the map challengers “mistake an electoral crisis as contempt.”

“And now, based on uncontroverted evidence, only one plan can be used in Ohio or else there will be no election at all.”

The GOP commissioners previously asked the court to hold off on ruling for or against the newly-adopted maps – which are identical to the third version of maps filed in February – until after the 2022 general election in November to reduce confusion for the electorate.

Democratic commissioners said GOP comments about the third map being the “only viable option” were “nonsense,” and said evidence proved otherwise.

“Each Republican Commissioner refused to join the repeated calls of the Democratic Commissioners to meet before May 4, squandering 20 days of time for no legitimate reason,” Sykes and Russo wrote to the court. “Each Republican Commissioner voted against reengaging the independent map drawers … No Republican commissioner offered any amendments to the February 24 Plan. No Republican Commissioner offered any other plan.”

Though they called contempt a “drastic remedy,” Sykes and Russo said Republicans had “so clearly violated their obligations, so clearly indicated they have no intention of complying with the court’s orders, (the Dem commissioners) see no other reasonable choice.”

Sykes and Russo, however, asked to be kept out of the contempt proceedings, saying they “took all steps within their power to comply with the Court’s order and to get the Commission to comply with the court’s order.”

Challengers, such as the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, have asked for a contempt charges to go forward three times before. Their March request was denied with no explanation from the court.

This is the second time the court has asked for answers to the contempt question. Back in February, the court asked the commission to explain why members shouldn’t be held in contempt and even scheduled a hearing. That hearing was postponed by the court after the commission passed the second version of legislative maps (one week after the court-ordered deadline), and hasn’t been rescheduled.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR