Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice O’Connor to retire, plans to fight against partisan gerrymandering

The top Republican jurist on Ohio’s Supreme Court will retire at the end of the year, only to then focus attention and effort on undermining the GOP’s now-solid control of what was once considered a perennial swing state.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor revealed earlier this year that her post-retirement plans include working to oppose partisan gerrymandering by establishing an independent redistricting commission to draw new legislative district maps, the Conservative Brief reported.

O’Connor, a Republican, had consistently sided with the Democratic justices on the state’s high court to repeatedly reject redistricting maps drawn up by the Republican-led state legislature that were deemed to be too favorable to the GOP and unfair to Democrats in Ohio.

An issue with partisan gerrymandering

The Ohio Capitol Journal reported in September that Justice O’Connor, in her final “State of the Judiciary” address, lamented the apparent failure of a constitutional amendment that was supposed to reduce partisan gerrymandering but, in her view, fell short of that goal.

“It did not prevent gerrymandering and it did not prevent the use in the upcoming election on Nov. 8 of unconstitutional maps that were drawn both for the congressional and general assembly districts,” O’Connor said, and further asserted that it had “no discernible or enforceable effect to curb gerrymandering in Ohio.”

The chief justice had clashed with the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission and she revealed in her speech that, after she was retired, she would push for an independent redistricting commission “that distances a redistricting commission from partisan politics by not having elected officials on the redistricting commission.”

“Let’s try having ordinary, sensible people who are not driven by politics, but rather by what’s fair: fair representation and justice,” she added at that time.

Republicans will still control state Supreme Court

If Ohio Democrats thought that Chief Justice O’Connor’s retirement and planned devotion to ending partisan gerrymandering in the state would immediately benefit their electoral chances in the increasingly “red” state, they will likely be sorely disappointed, however, as Republicans will continue to dominate the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future.

Cleveland.com reported in the wake of the midterm elections that Republicans will almost certainly maintain their 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court, only this time the new Republican chief justice who will replace O’Connor is unlikely to side with the Democratic minority on the issue of redistricting.

Incumbent GOP Justices Patrick Fischer and Pat DeWine won re-election over Democratic challengers, and GOP Justice Sharon Kennedy defeated Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner to succeed O’Connor as chief justice. Further, the vacancy on the bench left by O’Connor’s retirement will be filled by an undoubtedly Republican appointee of GOP Gov. Mike DeWine.

New maps likely to favor GOP even more, be upheld by high court

According to the local media outlet Salem News, the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission will redraw new maps next year ahead of the 2024 elections, but those new maps are likely to be just as favorable to the GOP as the ones that were previously rejected, only now Democrats won’t have Chief Justice O’Connor to side with them in opposing her own party’s continued legislative control.

In fact, due to a new provision in the laws that require partisan proportionality in the redrawn districts, and in light of the fact that Republicans have expanded and increased their hold over the state, it is actually possible that the new maps could be even more favorable for the GOP than the rejected ones, meaning O’Connor’s effort to help Democrats at the expense of her own party may actually backfire and place them in an even deeper hole of partisan irrelevancy.

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