© 2022 Cincinnati Public Radio
purple_waveback6.png
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Republicans want Ohio's Chief Justice impeached. Some say their reasoning doesn't add up

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'conner in a black robe with her hands folded in front of her.
Ohio Channel
/

Here's a question for the Republicans in the Ohio Statehouse who want to see Maureen O'Connor, the Republican chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, impeached and removed from office because she wouldn't give them what they wanted.

They say she has overstepped her bounds by declaring the state legislative and congressional districts maps they have spent months submitting to the court unconstitutional.

They say she should be impeached by the Ohio House and tried by the Ohio Senate, with the object being to remove her from office — even though, because of Ohio's age limits for judges, she will be gone in about eight months anyway.

So, here's the question that many Ohioans are asking:

If you are so determined to remove Maureen O'Connor from the hallowed halls of the Ohio Supreme Court, why aren't you threatening to impeach the three Democrats who voted with her to reject your faulty district maps?

The three Democrats — Michael Donnelly, Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner — also stood in the way of Republican plans to adopt these maps.

They, along with O'Connor, say they were following the constitutional amendments approved by more than 70% of Ohio voters who said loud and clear in two elections — 2015 and 2018 — they support the new redistricting rules the court majority is now enforcing.

Could it be Republicans don't really care what the Democrats on the court do because, well, they are Democrats and, in their mind, all Democrats stand in their way?

O'Connor hasn't said anything about this talk of impeaching her, but she is clearly not the type to back away from a fight.

"In Ohio, Republican politics there seems to be this belief that everyone should mindlessly follow the political party,'' said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati who has been a vocal critic of the Republicans majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

"If you believe your own argument that Maureen O'Connor should be impeached, you could not possibly go down this road without impeaching the others,'' Niven said.

"It reminds me of the 147 members of Congress who voted not to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election because they believed there was massive voter fraud,'' Niven said. "If they were right, they were saying that their own elections to Congress weren't valid either. It makes no sense."

Others in the Fair Districts coalition, made up of groups which have gone to the court and, so far, successfully challenged the GOP maps, are wondering publicly why some Republicans are singling out O'Connor as an impeachment target when four justices have rejected the Republican maps.

One of the Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the chief elections officer of the state, has voted for every map the Ohio Supreme Court majority has found to be unconstitutional.

Last Friday, at a GOP breakfast in Union County, LaRose was asked if he thought O'Connor should be impeached.

“I think that she has not upheld her oath of office, and that to me is a basic test of a public servant," said LaRose, who is not a lawyer. "That’s up to the state legislature, whether they want to impeach the chief justice or not. I certainly wouldn’t oppose it.”

On Monday, Karen Kasler, the statehouse bureau chief of Ohio Public Radio and TV, interviewed LaRose on voter registration and early voting. The subject of what LaRose said in Union County came up; and Kasler shared the recording with me.

"All I said was, I would be fine with it,'' LaRose told her. "I have concerns that the court has delved very deeply into politics and is starting to do things that are not really in the constitution, like ordering us to have hired out-of-state independent mapmakers and some of these other things."

"All I said was if the state legislature makes that choice, I'm not going to oppose it,'' LaRose told Kasler. "That's up to them, it's not up to me."

It’s not at all clear how much support for O'Connor's impeachment there is in the House GOP caucus, which numbers 64 of the 99 members of the Ohio House.

A handful have spoken of it publicly. The Ohio Capitol Journal reported last month that State Rep. Bill Seitz of Green Township, the majority floor leader of the House, and State Rep. Jon Cross of Kenton, argued for O'Connor's impeachment on a private GOP caucus phone call last month.

There's an argument out there that this is a bridge too far for most Republicans in the legislature.

It may be unlikely that the GOP leadership in the legislature chooses this path, but if they do, there will be one question from their critics that hang over the proceedings:

Why impeach only one justice when four did the deed?