In a closely-divided decision, today the Ohio Supreme Court handed down an opinion that the three justices in the minority, including Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner, said was contrary to both Ohio’s Constitution and its own precedent, thereby highlighting the need for fundamental reform of Ohio’s reapportionment process. Rep. Dennis Murray (D-Sandusky) stated that “the growing frustration that voters have today with the way in which the majority party cements its control one decade at a time through raw political control of the reapportionment process was also felt in 1947. And in that year, Ohioans acted decisively to amend our Constitution to take partisan domination out of the process of drawing legislative maps. In its place, the voters adopted a recipe that requires that certain steps be taken in a specified order, intending to stop the gerrymandering that Ohio witnessed last year.”
Three members of the Court essentially stated that the Court was abandoning its responsibility to ensure compliance with the Constitution regardless of political considerations, instead holding that the voters’ recipe could be followed in any order the majority wishes. Rep. Murray notes, “that is exactly what the republican-controlled apportionment board did last year when they decided to bake the ingredients in the shape partisan domination before first following the rest of the recipe ordered by the voters.”
In contrast, the minority opinion penned by the Court’s longest-serving member, Justice Paul Pfeifer pointed out that the Constitution mandates “the precise succession of chronological steps” and that in deciding the case the way that it did, the Court rendered itself “a rubber stamp” instead of “the guardian of the constitution that it is designed to be.” Justice Pfeifer also noted that his colleagues’ decision was founded on arguments that “fail the tests of logic and fairness.”
Rep. Murray stated that, “the decision today serves to underscore the fundamental need to reform the process by which legislative districts are created, so that voters pick their legislators instead of legislators picking their voters, not ensuring one party domination of the legislative process contrary to the popular vote. That is what happened earlier this month when Republicans won an overwhelming number of House seats under their new maps, even though Ohio voters cast more votes in favor of Democratic House candidates.” Rep. Murray is and will remain a member of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission and concluded that, “I look forward to continuing to serving the public in that role, as we look to tackle the systemic problems with Ohio government, chief among them being the way in which legislative maps are drawn.”
Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish (D-Beachwood) released the following statement upon the 4-3 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court in the re-apportionment lawsuit.
“Today’s Ohio Supreme Court decision is a victory for partisan political gerrymandering and a significant loss for Ohio voters. The court’s narrow majority in its 4-3 decision simply legalized the process of putting political interest ahead of the preservation of communities of interest. The Constitution clearly requires that the apportionment board minimize splits to counties, townships, cities and wards. The map that was adopted slices and dices governmental units 255 times, while alternative maps divided governmental units fewer than 100 times.
“The majority decision ignores the clear mandate of Article XI of the Constitution. Instead, the current legislative maps were drawn with the intent of maximizing political opportunity for one party. As a result, Republicans in the 2012 elections won a large majority in the House, while losing the statewide vote for state House candidates. This does not serve the broad interest of Ohio voters, instead it perpetuates a broken political system which will continue to favor extremism, not responsible governing.
“The court’s decision today points to the urgent need to adopt a new, fair system of redistricting.”
State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard has introduced legislation to clarify the General Assembly’s intent regarding juvenile access to legal counsel after the Ohio Supreme Court issued a 4-3 split decision in the case of In re M.W.
“This is a bill I started working on about a year ago and discovered that the Court was deliberating In re M.W. In deference to the Court, I held the bill pending their ruling,” said Rep. Heard. “The decision is not what I had hoped, but understandable. It is the judiciary’s responsibility to interpret the law as conflicts arise. When the law is interpreted to not protect children, it is a legislator’s job to write a law that does.”
The bill would require that any child under the age of 18, unless emancipated, be read, in their own language, their rights in regard to interrogation. Accused youths would also not be required to answer any questions, and gives them the right to speak to their parents or legal counsel prior to answering questions. “It is now clear that in order to give the same minimum equal protection to minors that we give to adults as they engage our law enforcement and court systems – we must legislate,” said the Representative. “When I first became aware of this issue, I challenged it because I found it incomprehensible that we so poorly managed juveniles in this process.”
Rep. Heard agrees with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s dissent, which was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Yvette McGee Brown, where the Chief Justice held that the majority’s definition of “proceeding” is inadequate, and is contrary to the General Assembly’s intent found in the Ohio Revised Code. Rep. Heard also feels that she is heeding Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger’s concurrent opinion where Justice Lanzinger opined that the question of when a “proceeding” begins is a policy matter to be addressed by the legislature.
The bill will be formally introduced on the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday, October 10th in a non-voting session.