The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state’s Republican-dominated redistricting commission to appear in person and explain why it shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for failing to draw fair state legislative maps.
The order to appear before the court came weeks after the state’s Supreme Court rejected maps from the commission for being overly partisan, in violation of a state constitutional amendment passed by Ohio voters in 2015.
The redistricting commission — which includes the state’s Republican governor, secretary of state and legislative leaders — submitted new proposed districts in early February, but the court again found them insufficient, saying that the commission had opted merely to switch a few competitive Republican districts into marginally Democratic ones — thereby “eliminating weak Republican districts and creating weak Democratic districts.”
The court, with Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor leading the majority, ordered the commission to adopt a new redistricting plan for the state by Feb. 18. No plan came. So O’Connor ordered the defendants to explain in writing why they shouldn’t be held in contempt.
What followed was an olympic round of finger-pointing, cleveland.com reported, with Republican members blaming everything from lack of access to map-making software to the time crunch of the court-imposed 10-day schedule.
The Republicans asked the court to hold off on any contempt decisions, and to give them more time to present a workable map. (Democrats on the committee, who proposed a map that was rejected by the Republican majority, apologized for the commission’s failures.)
State Senate President Matt Huffman (R) and state House Speaker Bob Cupp (R), who represent the Ohio legislature’s Republican majority on the commission, made a legal argument that members couldn’t be held in contempt individually, because the court’s orders had applied to the commission as a whole.
“What is clear from all of this is that this Court may not hold in contempt individual members of the constitutionally created Ohio Redistricting Commission who have themselves violated no order directed at them,” the Republican leaders wrote.
“Such a precipitous action would raise grave separation of powers issues that this Court should decline to confront. In any event, it may be unnecessary as the Speaker and the President anticipate the Commission will vote on a new plan this week.”
Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) filing similarly stressed that he was “but one member of a seven-member commission.”
A hearing has been set for Tuesday morning.
“Respondents may be accompanied by their counsel,” Thursday’s order noted. “No continuances will be granted.”
Cleveland.com reported midday Thursday that Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine had recused himself from the hearing. His father is the governor.
“It is possible that in this special proceeding the court could consider sanctions directed at individual members of he redistricting commission,” Justice DeWine wrote. “Because of this possibility, I intend to recuse myself from the March 1, 2022, hearing and the consideration of matters related thereto.”