COLUMBUS, Ohio — State leaders continued to spar on Friday over whether the Ohio Supreme Court should force the state's Republican-dominated political mapmaking panel to answer for defying a court order to redraw unconstitutional Statehouse maps.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state's elections chief, told justices it's wrong to ask him or any other member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission to show cause for why they ignored the high court's May 25 order.
The 4-3 decision accompanied the high court's fifth rejection of a plan for Ohio House and Senate district lines, and the second of that particular plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
LaRose noted that, two days later, a federal judicial panel imposed use of the same invalidated map and set a legislative primary election for Aug. 2. He said he swiftly ordered county boards of elections to proceed with that map and date. The first ballots for that election went out Friday to military and overseas voters.
Those events removed any urgency for the commission to reconvene and draw the newly ordered maps, he contended.
LaRose said he agreed with state Rep. Jeff LaRe, a fellow Republican commissioner, that "now that a map is in place for the 2022 elections, it is not possible to draw a new General Assembly district plan until the results of the November elections are known."
Democratic and voting rights groups that have been fighting — and winning — lawsuits over Ohio's new political maps for months want the commission held accountable. Drawing the maps was required to reflect updated population figures from the 2020 census,
"It is bad enough that the Commission has ignored an express order of this Court, but Petitioners respectfully submit that it is nothing less than shocking that the Commission has done so without even deigning to provide an excuse to this Court for its failure to comply with the Court's deadline," according to a June 7 filing asking justices to demand accountability from the commission.
The panel took no action at all in response to the May 25 order, such as gathering commissioners for a discussion or scheduling a meeting.
On Friday, the redistricting commission's two Democratic members, state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Minority Leader Allison Russo, urged the court to "impose a line that the Republican commissioners cannot cross."
"Without consequences for breaking the law, the majority Commissioners will not stop and will not give up their supermajority power," they wrote. "They will continue to 'do what they want.'"