WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Ohio Redistricting Commission released responses explaining why it should not be held in contempt of court. The Commission reached an impasse on Thursday, Feb. 17, when it failed to agree on new legislative districts to comply with the Supreme Court of Ohio’s deadline. The Commission had been ordered to redraw the legislative maps a third time after the first two iterations were rejected by the state Supreme Court for being partisan gerrymanders that violated the Ohio Constitution. On Feb. 18, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor ordered the Commission to show cause for why its members should not be held in contempt for failure to comply with the court’s order.
The Commission released five distinct responses to show cause:
- The response from the full Ohio Redistricting Commission argues that the members respected the court order and acted in good faith, but were unable to agree on a map within the 10 day timeframe because there was still confusion around the precise meaning or demands of certain concepts, such as proportionality and political asymmetry. The Commission asks for a few additional days within which they believe they can adopt a compliant General Assembly plan.
- The response from the Republican legislative leaders — House Speaker Bob Cupp (R) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R) — argues that contempt is inappropriate because the court order was directed at the Commission as a body and not the speaker or president as individuals. The response further asserts that the speaker and president were serving in purely legislative roles during the redistricting process and this grants them immunity.
- The response from the Republican statewide officials — Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) and State Auditor Keith Faber (R) — argues that the secretary of state and auditor took all reasonable steps to comply with the order, but there was no way for the two of them, alone, to enact a map. LaRose and Faber explain that they had serious questions about the constitutionality of the proposed plan, which went unanswered, and thus they could not vote to approve it.
- The response from Gov. Mike DeWine (R) makes a similar argument that he cannot be held in contempt of court because he is only one of seven members in the Commission without the capacity to compel action. DeWine further claims that the redistricting provisions in the Ohio Constitution do not allow the court to compel the passage of a specific plan and by extension, do not allow them to threaten contempt.
- The response from the Democratic legislative leaders — state Sen. Vernon Sykes (D) and House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D) — argues that they did everything in their power to pass their revised plan. The Democratic commissioners assert that no feedback or constitutional deficiencies were raised regarding their map proposal, but the Republican commissioners voted against it and declared an impasse without further effort. Sykes and Russo ask the court to either: 1) declare their map proposal constitutional or 2) order a briefing schedule to receive detailed explanations and evidence of alleged constitutional deficiencies regarding their map proposal.
The Supreme Court of Ohio will make a decision in light of these responses. The path forward is unclear; over the past day, both LaRose and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost raised concerns about the impasse in light of the impending primary elections in May.