State Watch

Ohio Republicans, furious over redistricting snubs, target state’s chief justice

Andrew Welsh-Huggins / Associated Press

A narrow majority of justices on Ohio’s Supreme Court voted this week to reject a new redistricting plan that they said would unduly favor Republican candidates in the decade ahead, the fourth time the high court has rejected maps drawn by Republicans who control the redistricting process.

The Ohio Republicans, who now have until May 6 to come up with a new plan, are considering a different approach: impeaching the chief justice who has stymied their maps so many times.

Several prominent state representatives have called for Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s ouster, just months before she is set to retire later this year. They object to the majority decisions O’Connor has joined striking down maps offered by both the state legislature and a new redistricting commission, which is controlled by Republican elected officials.

“Yesterday’s ruling is simply a rehash of the same flawed tripe that we’ve been served for the last several months now,” said state Rep. Bill Seitz (R), one of the leaders of the impeachment movement.

O’Connor’s votes striking down the maps, made along with the three Democrats on the state’s highest court, have been all the more frustrating to Republicans because she is one of them. Before her election to the high court in 2002, O’Connor served a term as Ohio’s lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Bob Taft (R).

Seitz, a longtime veteran of the statehouse in Columbus, pointed to portions of state law that give the legislature the sole authority to set the manner and timing of elections. The legislature initially set primary elections for May 3, which now cannot happen because of the Supreme Court decisions.

The court superseding the legislature’s authority, he said, could be construed as an impeachable misdemeanor.

“The liberals are saying, well, they’re just talking about impeaching O’Connor because they don’t like her decisions. That is not the case,” he said. “It can be done for whatever the legislature deems to be misdemeanors in office. We have the power to determine whether a misdemeanor has been committed and if so whether that warrants removal.”

Other top Ohio Republicans have sharply criticized O’Connor’s rulings. Meeting with a local Republican group earlier this month, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) — whose job includes setting and conducting the primary election — said he “certainly wouldn’t oppose” an impeachment push.

“I think that she has not upheld her oath of office, and that to me is the basic test of a public servant,” LaRose said in a recording obtained by the Ohio Capital Journal. “She’s violated her oath of office by making up what she wants the law to say instead of interpreting what it actually says.”

Ohio’s redistricting commission, created when voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2015, includes Gov. Mike DeWine (R), Auditor Keith Faber (R), LaRose and the four top legislative leaders, giving Republicans a 5-2 majority.

But the commission declined to approve new U.S. House maps late last year, ceding authority to the legislature — which passed maps that favors Republicans in 11 of 15 districts, and gives them an edge in two more.

The Ohio Supreme Court struck down those maps in January and then another version crafted by the commission in March.

“It’s time to impeach Maureen O’Connor now,” state Rep. Scott Wiggam (R) tweeted after the March ruling.

Justices declined to strike down yet another map, though the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to challenge the district lines ahead of the next set of congressional elections in 2024.

The decision this week struck down state legislative map lines. A panel of three federal judges is slated to hold hearings next week on legislative district map lines.

That ruling could make impeachment talk moot, and legislators in Columbus are watching the case closely. But if the federal panel declines to reinstate the map, Seitz said legislators would reconsider.

“What we are going to do, I don’t know,” Seitz said in an interview Friday. “All options remain on the table, and we just have to see if there are 50 votes that are willing to start down this path. The Senate is being appropriately noncommittal.”

Tags Maureen O'Connor Ohio Ohio Supreme Court Redistricting

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