“If the courts don’t uphold the rule of law,” tweeted former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, “there is no rule of law.”
Last week, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in his favor. Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission – tasked with drawing fair maps of legislative districts – openly defied the court and violated the Ohio Constitution. Still.
The state Supreme Court’s response? Nary a judicial slap on the wrist. Of course, the majority of the court did its share of rebuke and twist on what the Republican commissioners pulled off with the hubris of the untouchable operators. But that’s all. The court acknowledged that the commission’s partisan actors “indulged in a staggering rebuke of the rule of law” and then raised their hands as an institution. Never mind.
Hello? That’s to say not how you respect the law. Not how you reinforce the fundamental principle that no one – not the governor, the secretary of state, the auditor, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House – is above the law. It’s letting the party that controls all the political levers of the state do what it pleases, no matter how many court decisions or constitutional mandates it flouts.
By all rights, the highest court in the state should have thrown the book on the majority GOP members of the commission for their flagrant disobedience to the court and the constitution. The fifth The map of the General Assembly District submitted to the court by the redistricting commissioners was the same one that was ruled unconstitutional two shots ago! That’s how insignificant an obstacle partisan panelists saw the Ohio Supreme Court as in their quest to circumvent the constitution.
And they were right.
The same court that had ordered the Republican-dominated commission to draw an entirely new map in accordance with the constitution, instead received a now twice rejected resubmitted map. A remarkable disregard of a Supreme Court decision. Yet the high court refused to sanction the commission for ignoring its own orders. Without explanation, he refused to scorn the commissioners for (again) thumbing his nose at the court – and the rule of law.
At the time of this writing, State Senate Chairman Matt Huffman, who was instrumental in crafting the set of 2012 biased district maps to benefit one party rather than another, no doubt congratulates himself on having done the same a decade later. He broke all the rules of the redistricting reform with impunity. He (and his commission cohorts) made a mockery of the process established by Ohio voters through two amendments to the constitution mandating fair, competitive, and representative precincts. Huffman et al did what they wanted and not what was required.
But that’s what untouchable operators who aren’t constrained by the courts or constitutional redistricting requirements are doing. They pay no price for their anarchy. The cost is borne by law-abiding citizens stuck in distorted precincts where competing votes make no sense and elections a lost conclusion. Where Democratic voters in Ohio are marginalized in even fewer districts to minimize political influence. The 2020 election in Ohio was held in gerrymandered districts ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. The 2022 elections in Ohio will be held in districts deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. It’s as if nothing had changed. But something has.
There is no more rule of law in Ohio. One side overruled it in a power test with the judiciary and won. The final court on the law all but acknowledged its failure to uphold it in its latest decision. He acknowledged that the Republican frontrunners on the commission — aided by a federal executive order that an unconstitutional map would be enough to prevent a constitutional map from being approved — had absolutely no incentive to follow the law or comply with court orders. the Supreme Court of Ohio.
In a lame reply, the court held out hope that the commission members would uphold “their oaths of office as elected officials – oaths that are not taken to ensure that a political party has a supermajority but to obey the Constitution of Ohio”. Please. The court could have held them liable for the brazen violation of Ohio’s redistricting law. It has not and is weakening as a citadel of justice where the law is supposed to govern and not the political operators.
But here we are. The Supreme Court of Ohio, the ACLU of Ohio, and the League of Women Voters of Ohio have all bailed us out in the fight for fair districts for another election cycle. At least the Democratic nominee for attorney general, who is running to uphold the law in Ohio, hasn’t given up on lawbreakers who are plotting to overthrow it. State Representative Jeff Crossman has filed a criminal complaint against Republicans with the Redistricting Commission for dereliction of duty.
Asking the Ohio State Highway Patrol to investigate GOP commissioners who “recklessly breached a duty expressly imposed by law with respect to the official’s office” is, of course, a long shot. But Crossman’s emphasis on accountability – “If it turns out that they broke the law and didn’t uphold the Constitution, I demand real accountability” – should be widely welcomed by all in the city. Ohio weary of a state mired in corruption and abuse of power.
Do we value the rule of law enough to demand it from our political leaders or not?
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