I want to thank everyone who joined us at Clermont County Democratic Party headquarters in Batavia on Sunday, March 20 to welcome gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley. The Ohio Democratic Party has not made an endorsement in our primary race for Governor, and I certainly will not. Both Nan Whaley and John Cranley show that Ohio can do a lot better than the man currently in the Governor’s chair. Apparently, our Republican neighbors think so too. It was amusing to see signs for DeWine’s primary election challenger in the windows of the Republican headquarters across Main Street while former Mayor Whaley spoke with us Sunday. I think this highlights the fact that Republicans are deeply divided. 2022 offers us an opportunity to take Ohio back from the big corporations who have bought our state government.
The Ohio Supreme Court held unconstitutional the most recent Ohio House and Ohio Senate Districts drawn by only the Republicans on the Redistricting Commission. The Commission has until next Monday to submit a fourth map.
Offended by the Court’s refusal to approve gerrymandered General Assembly districts that violate the Ohio Constitution, news reports over the weekend suggest that Republican leaders in the General Assembly are plotting to gerrymander the Supreme Court. General Assembly Republicans are reportedly considering impeachment of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who has voted to uphold the Ohio Constitution instead of the Republicans’ maps. The official comment on these reports from the office of Ohio House Majority Leader Bill Seitz, a Republican from western Hamilton County, was that “all options are on the table.”
Unfortunately, Article IV, Section 17 of the Ohio Constitution says that all it takes to remove any state judge from office is a concurrent resolution of both houses of the General Assembly if two-thirds of the members of each house vote for the resolution. Republicans currently hold 25 of 33 state senate seats, more than the two-thirds necessary; but have only 64 of the 99 state house seats, two fewer than they need to remove the Chief Justice. This suggests Republicans can’t remove one of their own from office for following the law. Still, if the Chief Justice is removed from office, Governor DeWine would appoint her replacement. It is telling that Republicans want to rig our Supreme Court in order to keep rigging our General Assembly.
Republican allies filed a lawsuit in federal court in Columbus seeking to undo the Ohio Supreme Court’s decisions about the General Assembly districts. The plaintiffs have invoked a rare procedure that gives them a three-judge district court instead of the usual single judge. Three judges have been selected to hear this case. I think it is clear under recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that federal courts should not even decide cases of this type. However, because the case is being heard by a three-judge District Court, the plaintiffs will have a right to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court if they dislike the three judges’ decision.
The right of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court makes this case potentially very impactful. First, the U.S. Supreme Court does not have the option, as it does in most cases appealed to it, not to decide the case. Once the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, there will be some time for the parties to file briefs and a longer time for at least five Justices to agree on an outcome. Someone will also have to write something explaining the reasons for the Court’s decision. Thus, at the very least, the federal case raises the possibility that General Assembly districts for the 2022 election, and the state parties’ central committee districts, will not be finalized for a few months.
This case could give the right-wing majority on the Court an opportunity to obliterate anti-gerrymandering laws like the two amendments Ohio voters added to our state constitution. Republicans control most of the state legislatures in this country. There is a legal theory, long discredited but now being revived by Republican lawyers, that the U.S. Constitution gives the state legislatures complete unfettered control over all elections.
One tenet of this theory is that state and federal courts are powerless to act even if a legislature does something regarding elections that violates the state or federal constitution. Under the more extreme views of this theory, but entirely consistent with its logic, a legislature could pass a law requiring that only votes for Republican candidates may be counted and that ballots containing votes for Democratic candidates must be immediately destroyed. The Trump appointees and Justice Thomas have publicly expressed some general agreement with this legal theory. Whether they would declare it the law of the United States, and whether a fifth justice would go along, remains to be seen.
You will note that I haven’t said anything about Congress. After the General Assembly punted again, the Ohio Redistricting Commission, on a party-line vote, adopted another gerrymandered set of congressional districts. Last Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered that a new lawsuit would be required to challenge these new districts. That lawsuit will be filed. It may have been filed by the time you read this. What the Court’s order last Friday means is that it may be longer than we expected before Congressional districts for the 2022 election are finalized.
What about the primary election scheduled for May 3, 44 days from today? The official word from the Ohio Secretary of State is that only the General Assembly can change the date, and it hasn’t, so we are going ahead on May 3. Republican General Assembly leaders are adamant that the primary date will not change. The only concession to reality suggested by any of them so far is that Ohio might have two primaries: one on May 3 to select local and statewide candidates and a second primary later for General Assembly and Congressional candidates and to elect state party central committee members (members of both parties’ state central committees are elected based on the Ohio Senate districts). Estimates of the statewide cost of a second primary range from $ 15 million to $ 20 million. That does not address the question of getting voters, and poll workers, to come out for a second primary election.
The irony in all this is that even the districts proposed by Democrats would still result in Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and in our congressional delegation. However, for Republicans, the end of holding onto their super majorities justifies any means and any cost.