“Ohioans deserve better”

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 26, 2022

COLUMBUS (AP) — The fate of an extraordinary showdown in Ohio that would bring persistently defiant political mapmakers before justices of the Ohio Supreme Court was in the balance Friday, after the state’s Republican-controlled redistricting panel delivered the court a third set of legislative maps that its majority insists are now constitutional.

The state has been here twice before, however, and twice the high court has invalidated the GOP-drawn and -supported maps. A 4-3 majority scolded the Republican-led Ohio Redistricting Commission both times for illegally gerrymandering the lines for partisan gain and failing to work with panel Democrats to achieve bipartisan consensus.

For now, commissioners are still compelled to show up in person Tuesday to answer to the court. Individually and as a body, they face contempt charges for defying a court-ordered Feb. 17 deadline for approving the maps.

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The plan ultimately finalized Thursday was seven days late, adding to the commission’s record of blowing nearly every deadline for its work laid out in the state’s Constitution.

The high-powered line-up summoned before the court includes Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, all Republicans, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, both Democrats.

Two justices who dissented in the court’s map-related rulings, Sharon Kennedy and Pat Fischer, have objected to holding Tuesday’s hearing. Kennedy argues that Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor — a Republican who has joined the court’s three Democrats to find maps gerrymandered — improperly acted alone to summon the commissioners.

The third dissenting justice in the gerrymandering cases, the governor’s son Justice Pat DeWine, has recused himself from Tuesday’s proceeding. O’Connor has replaced DeWine with Judge W. Scott Gwin, a Democrat.
Cupp, himself a former justice, made perhaps the most impassioned argument to date Thursday night on Republicans’ behalf.

He argued the belabored back-and-forth with the court was a necessary exercise for understanding how Ohio’s brand new redistricting system should be carried out.

“The fact is, is that it is a new constitutional provision that has never before been utilized or navigated or litigated — and, as such, naturally results in differing opinions and understanding about what is required,” Cupp said. “Decisions of the Ohio Supreme Court have subsequently filled in some of the meaning of certain constitutional provisions.”

The panel’s Democrats, Sykes and Russo, voted against the third set of maps — questioning Republicans’ characterization that the plan creates a 54-45 Republican majority in the Ohio House and an 18-15 Republican majority in Ohio Senate. That would be just the ratios the high court has ordered, because it would deliver Ohioans representation at the Statehouse proportional to their party preferences.

Sykes criticized Republicans for excluding his party from the creation of the final maps for the third time in a row.

The Democratic leader of the Ohio Senate, Kenny Yuko, said in a statement that the commission “has had more than enough chances to work together and follow the court’s directions.” He said, “Ohioans deserve better.”