Pictured is the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center where the Ohio Supreme Court meets. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons..
The Ohio Supreme Court overruled GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose once again Tuesday, finding that a Democratic House candidate had a “clear legal right” to the ballot that he denied.
A 4-3 majority, comprised of the court’s three liberals and its conservative chief justice, ordered LaRose to place Athens County Democrat Tanya Conrath on the ballot to run against Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville.
The court ruled that LaRose “acted in clear disregard of this court’s case law and created an impermissible legal absurdity based on the anomalous primary election held on Aug. 2.” Ohio’s legislative primary was delayed several months because the Supreme Court repeatedly overturned redistricting proposals passed by statehouse Republicans, finding them to be unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.
A federal court eventually ordered the election to proceed on a map found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. However, corresponding deadlines in state law weren’t adjusted for the delay, erecting administrative minefields for candidates and officials.
In this case, Ohio University student Rhyan Goodman ran uncontested in the Democratic primary and won. However, he withdrew his candidacy after the primary but before officials formally certified the election. The local Democratic Party, just before a deadline, named Conrath as his replacement. But the Athens County Board of Elections didn’t certify Goodman’s victory until two days later.
The board then tied 2-2 on whether Conrath can lawfully replace Goodman, given the latter hadn’t been certified. LaRose broke the tie, siding with Republicans on the board saying Conrath could only replace a certified candidate. Conrath filed suit, accusing LaRose of making a partisan decision just to ensure an uncontested race for Edwards.
The Supreme Court ruling orders LaRose to place Conrath’s name on the ballot.
“Today is a banner day for democracy, freedom and choice,” Conrath said in a statement. “What a relief to have the Ohio Supreme Court be the parent in the room and put a stop to this partisan bullying. The Court stood up for democracy and will give voters in Athens, Meigs, Morgan and Washington counties a clear choice of candidates in November.”
Edwards didn’t respond to a text message about the ruling. A spokesman for LaRose said there’s enough time for Conrath’s name to appear on standard ballots. However, UOCAVA ballots for citizens and military personnel overseas have already gone out, so officials will have to send a supplemental ballot with Conrath on it along with instructions on why the voter is receiving it.
Three Republicans on the court dissented from the decision. A dissent authored by Justice Sharon Kennedy accuses the majority of “judicial activism” and siding with their desired outcomes, rather than what the law would call for. Kennedy is running for chief justice in November against Justice Jennifer Brunner, a liberal justice who voted with the majority.
The justices broke along familiar lines — identical to their positions on rulings that repeatedly overturned the state’s legislative and congressional redistricting proposals as unconstitutional gerrymanders. Justice Pat Fischer, in an opinion of his own, even blamed the underlying circumstances of the Conrath case on “this court’s previous failure to follow the Ohio Constitution” in the redistricting cases.
Just last month, the Supreme Court issued another ruling overturning a decision by LaRose to keep a candidate off the ballot. There, the court ruled he must allow Terpsehore “Tore” Maras on the ballot for Secretary of State as an independent.
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