Ohio GOP leaders push U.S. Supreme Court to give them free rein to rig elections with gerrymandering

October 18, 2022 4:20 am

The U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo by Phil Roeder/Getty Images).

All the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling party in Ohio is appealing for absolute power to rig federal elections in the state. Ohio Republicans want the Ohio Supreme Court removed as an arbiter of constitutional compliance for congressional district maps that break all the rules of fairness. They don’t give a damn about the Ohio Constitution.

And clearly, Republican legislative leaders have no intention of obeying state supreme court orders to remedy their partisan-skewed congressional maps twice rejected as unconstitutional. No. The lawmakers’ end-run appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court aims to eliminate the authority of the Ohio Supreme Court to interfere with their naked political power grab to determine election outcomes through gerrymandered congressional districts.


The importance of preserving Republican free rein to manipulate redistricting in states cannot be understated. The announced litigation to the highest court in the land by Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, House Speaker Bob Cupp and others is added insurance ahead of a critical Ohio Supreme Court election. In the meantime, outside GOP reinforcements have been summoned to Ohio to ensure that the Huffman-inspired redistricting process is allowed to continue creating voting districts favorable to Republicans. The judiciary must be contained.   

To that end, one right-wing political organization released its first ad attacking the Democratic candidates in three Ohio Supreme Court races last week as early voting began in Ohio. The Republican State Leadership Committee — a dark money machine notorious for funneling loads of undisclosed donor funding into pivotal state elections across the country — is dumping at least $2 million in Ohio to keep the state’s high court under Republican control.

In 2010, the same group spearheaded a nationwide push by Republicans to draw election-proof redistricting maps for state and federal GOP candidates. RSLA raised $30 million to gerrymander GOP dominance in multiple states. Naturally, the party powerhouse plans to protect its investment in Ohio with a slate of Republican justices who offer a reliable record of support for every party-leaning district map submitted by GOP lawmakers.

Republican Justices Sharon Kennedy, Pat DeWine, and Pat Fischer repeatedly approved congressional and legislative maps ruled unconstitutional by the court. Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor infuriated Huffman et al. by siding with the Ohio Constitution, Democratic justices, and Ohio voters. But O’Connor is retiring, so the RSLC is buying TV ads in the state to guarantee a more amenable decision on GOP redistricting with a more amenable chief justice.

Justice Kennedy is running for the job. If she gets it and Justices DeWine and Fischer win their reelection bids, Republicans keep their narrow 4-3 hold of the court with a majority more likely to facilitate than obstruct the state party agenda. But if Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner becomes chief justice instead, and Democrats Marilyn Zayas and Terri Jamison, both appellate judges, defeat the incumbent Republicans, the high court flips to a Democratic majority.

A fate worse than death for the Ohio GOP. 

Which explains why the outside GOP group jumped into the Ohio court election in such a big way. It reverted to an old (and tired) playbook with its inaugural TV ad. Targeted the three Democratic judges as “soft on crime” with all the (groan) flashing police lights, handcuffed criminals, ominous overtones, and misleading claims. Heavy on the fear factor. A harbinger of what’s to come.

Deep out-of-state (and in-state) pockets are fueling the drive for full Republican dominion in Ohio without any judicial backstop. No checks and balance by an impartial Ohio Supreme Court  upholding the constitution of the state. With a lock on every statewide office and the legislature, control of the judicial branch would give Ohio Republicans ultimate license to rule without restraint. 

State Republicans appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court so they could gerrymander as they please and dilute/diminish the power of Ohio voters to affect congressional elections unconstrained by the state constitution or supreme court. But barring action on that Hail Mary litigation, GOP lawmakers need a majority on the Ohio Supreme Court that is dependably in their corner with pending lawsuits on their unconstitutional congressional and legislative redistricting maps. 

Ohio’s near total abortion ban is also in play with the Supreme Court as lower court stays and appeals wend their way to the justices who may soon have to adjudicate even more extreme abortion restrictions promised by Statehouse Republicans in the lame duck session. The only reason the Ohio Supreme Court races are on the national radar — even if they have eclipsed most Ohio voters — is control. Too much riding on high-profile issues. 

Ohio Republicans, and the GOP-aligned groups going to battle on their behalf, leave no doubt about the lengths they will go to make the judicial branch of government an arm of the ruling party in the state. And their coordinated strategy might well work in a red-leaning state where judicial candidates will be identified for the first time by party on the General Election ballot. 

Ohio voters typically give little thought to down ballot judicial races and this year may be no different. But here’s the thing. Coveted control of the Ohio Supreme Court is all theirs on Nov. 8. What justice in the state looks like going forward is in their hands at the ballot box. What will you do with so much power?


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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.