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Ohio redistricting commissioners make their arguments against being held in contempt

Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Supreme Court

The Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission are asserting that the Ohio Supreme Court does not have the authority to hold them in contempt of court while their Democratic counterparts on the commission argue otherwise.

The Ohio redistricting commissioners filed their motions in court after petitioners – who are objecting to the latest round of state legislative district maps – asked the court to order members to explain why they should not be held in contempt.

On May 6, the commission resubmitted a plan for Ohio House and Ohio Senate district maps that had already been rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court as unconstitutional in March.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said in his court filing that he cannot be held in contempt when he is acting “in accordance with his solemn duty to ensure orderly and trustworthy elections and to protect the voting rights of Ohioans.”

LaRose said, through attorneys in his court filing, that he laid out for the commission the “logistical realities” of holding a primary for state legislative races in 2022. During commission meetings, LaRose explained his reasoning for why the commission had to choose what’s become known as Map 3, a plan adopted by the commission in February. LaRose said that was the only plan that gave local elections officials a chance to hold a primary on August 2 given certain deadlines they would have to meet.

“Petitioners cannot ignore realities and the established deadlines (that Secretary LaRose does not have the authority to change) that they acknowledged in the Gonidakis Case and take contrary positions calling for contempt in this action,” wrote attorneys representing LaRose in the filing. The “Gonidakis Case” refers to a federal court case where judges have given Ohio until May 28 to adopt a constitutional plan or the federal court will implement the unconstitutional Map 3.

Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.) and Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) filed together to echo LaRose’s response and added, “the resubmittal of the plan adopted by the Commission on February 24, 2022 (the “Third Plan”) was not an act of defiance, but an act of necessity under the electoral emergency facing the Secretary of State and Ohio voters.”

The Republican commissioners all made the argument – even Auditor Keith Faber who voted against the maps – that the Ohio Supreme Court does not have the authority to hold the commission in contempt because it is a different branch of government and would result in a separation of powers violation.

Democratic commissioners disagree with their fellow redistricting commission members. For the first time since the start of the court challenges over redistricting, House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) actively called for the court to hold the Republican commissioners in contempt.

“Contempt is a drastic remedy, especially against members of a constitutional body. But the Republican Commissioners have so clearly violated their obligations, so clearly indicated they have no intention of complying with the Court’s orders, that Senator Sykes and Leader Russo see no other reasonable choice,” wrote attorneys for Russo and Sykes.

Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy, a Republican running for chief justice, has written in previous court filings that she is against the idea of the supreme court possibly holding contempt hearings.

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