COLUMBUS, Ohio – Partisan mapmakers in Ohio made distinctly emotional pleas to the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday, as justices once again weigh whether to hold the state's redistricting commission in contempt.
The bipartisan commission has sent five different plans for state legislative districts to the high court. Four were invalidated and, on the fifth time around, the commission opted to send over a previously invalidated map.
The endless fight, which long-suffering county election officials have likened to “Groundhog Day,” prevented primaries for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate from moving forward May 3.
Republican commissioners have defended their actions as making the best of time constraints and a cumbersome set of court decisions for carrying out Ohio's new political map-drawing system.
On Thursday, they took aim at persistent requests by Democratic and voting-rights groups who went them held in contempt of court.
“This all is just too far beyond what this Court can and should do,” wrote lawyers for Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, the sole Republican to vote against any of the commission's legislative plans. “These show-cause motions unnecessarily pull the Court away from what the Constitution actually requires it to do: review the merits of a Commission-passed General Assembly-district plan.”
Attorneys for the commission's two Democrats begged to differ, expressing not just disappointment but “sadness” at Republicans' unwillingness to involve the minority party in the Statehouse mapmaking process and, for the first time, recommending contempt.
“Contempt is a drastic remedy, especially against members of a constitutional body,” state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Minority Leader Allison Russo's filing read. “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.”
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both the state's elections chief and a member of the redistricting commission, insists that a single date – April 20 – should be key in determining whether the redistricting panel was in contempt. That is the date on which any new state legislative map needed to be finalized.