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Ohio Republican redistricting commissioners make their case against court reprimands

(from left to right) Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Auditor Keith Faber (R-Ohio), Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio), look at draft maps before the Ohio Redistricting Commission's meeting on March 27, 2022.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
(from left to right) Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Auditor Keith Faber (R-Ohio), Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio), look at draft maps before the Ohio Redistricting Commission's meeting on March 27, 2022.

The court battle over Ohio's latest state legislative district maps — the fourth attempt by redistricting officials — is happening in two different forms: an objection to the plan and a motion to hold the redistricting commissioners in contempt of court.

Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission are the main target for the latter. Petitioners say the GOP commissioners "hijacked" the redistricting process by adopting a new state legislative district plan that only featured slight changes from the third plan, which was already found unconstitutional by the court.

With the objections filed against the latest district maps and a motion to hold commissioners in contempt, Auditor Keith Faber (R-Ohio) says, through counsel, that petitioners want "two bites at the apple."

"By filing these show-cause motions, petitioners are distracting the court from its constitutional duty to review the merits of the fourth commission-passed General Assembly-district plan," writes Brodi Conover, attorney for Faber.

While Faber voted against the fourth round of House and Senate district maps, he and the other Republican commissioners made similar arguments for why members on the redistricting panel should not be held in contempt.

Separation of powers

The Republican redistricting commissioners argued that the Ohio Supreme Court does not have the authority to penalize members for decisions they make while drafting new maps.

Through court filings, the members said the state supreme court is a co-equal branch of government to the redistricting commission and therefore cannot tell the commission how to perform its function.

"What is beyond the court’s authority is the power to directly or indirectly, under the threat of contempt or otherwise, compel the implementation or adoption of any general assembly district plan," wrote counsel for for Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), submitted by Attorney General Dave Yost (R-Ohio).

The filing from Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) cited the portion of the constitution that states the court does not have the ability to implement a district map that has not been adopted by the commission.

They noted the landmark DeRolph v. State case in which the court found Ohio's school funding formula to be unconstitutional in 1997 but declined to instruct the state on how to fix the system.

Following the rules

When ruling against the third attempt at state legislative district maps, which were adopted on February 24, the court included several rules for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to follow when drafting a new plan.

The commission reconvened on March 18 to begin that new process. They hired independent mapmakers and created a live stream of those experts drawing new district lines.

Because of that new process, Huffman and Cupp told the court they carried out every task directed in the last ruling. They added that they did not go with the plan drawn by the independent mapmakers because it was not ready in time.