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Government/Politics

Ohio Supreme Court orders elected officials on redistricting commission to hearing on contempt

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Daniel Konik
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Republican Justice Pat DeWine has recused himself from the contempt proceedings, because they will involve his father, Gov. Mike DeWine - while another justice says she disagrees with the decision to hold a hearing.

The five Republicans and two Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission have been ordered to appear before the Ohio Supreme Court for a hearing March 1.

Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy said in a letter she intends to write a dissent, opposing the contempt hearing. Kennedy and the two other Republicans on the Court, Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer, have upheld the maps in the redistricting cases and disagreed with the decisions striking down the maps from the three Democrats and Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. Kennedy is running for Chief Justice this year against Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner. O'Connor can't run again because state law sets an age limit of 70 years on justices seeking office.

Justice Pat DeWine said he's recusing himself from the contempt proceedings, which could impose sanctions on individual commission members - which include his father, Gov. Mike DeWine. But he said he won't be recusing himself from the redistricting cases, because he's said his father is just a single member of the Commission and has no personal stake in how the districts are drawn.

House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said in their response, through their lawyer Phillip Strach, that not only is a contempt finding "inappropriate", but also: "In any event, it may be unnecessary as the Speaker and the President anticipate the Commission will vote on a new plan this week."

The Commission itself responded through its lawyer, saying no member should be held in contempt because "a new plan could be approved in the coming days" but also that "it appears each member acted in good faith in an effort to comply timely with the Court’s order".

Also responding separately were the panel's two Democrats, co-chair Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Minority Leader Allison Russo. They said in their response that they proposed maps last Thursday but Republicans on the Commission rejected them and that: "We apologize to the Court for the Commission's failures."

And the three Republicans on the panel who hold statewide office - Gov. Mike DeWine, Auditor Keith Faber and Secretary of State Frank LaRose - also responded separately.

LaRose and Faber said they shouldn't be individually liable because the panel "could not do in just ten days what it was previously unable to do in four months: adopt an Ohio General Assembly district plan that it, and this Court, will approve." And they said as just members of the Commission, they can't enact a plan themselves.

DeWine said something similar; that he’s just one of seven and can’t order them to do anything. But he pointed at the co-chairs, Cupp and Sykes, as the ones who “control the purse strings" of the Commission and can hire the mapmakers. He also said he’s in full compliance with his obligation as governor to send the maps to the commission, and that the threat of contempt is unconstitutional under the separation of powers.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a single May primary for all offices on this year's ballot appears to be gone.

LaRose said after yesterday's meeting that the primary will likely have to be moved to June or that there will be two primaries, with one being held as scheduled May 3.

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