Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice O’Connor to retire end of year, devote herself to fight against GOP gerrymandering

Ohio State Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor recently delivered the “State of the Judiciary” address at the Ohio Judicial Conference and revealed what she intends to do in the near future.

O’Connor is set to retire from the judicial bench at the end of the year due to term limits, but she will not soon fade away, as she plans to become engaged on the side of Democrats in the political fight over “gerrymandering” in the state and federal-level redistricting process, the Conservative Brief reported.

The chief justice used that speech to launch rhetorical attacks against Ohio’s Republican-majority legislature and the redistricting maps it had drawn following the 2020 Census, which she had rejected multiple times for being unconstitutional and too partisan in favor of the GOP.

O’Connor also decried a recently passed constitutional amendment in the state that was supposed to “prohibit undue partisanship in the redistricting process” but has had, in her view, “no discernible or enforceable effect” in preventing gerrymandering — the longstanding practice routinely engaged in by both parties to overtly draw state districting maps in their own favor.

Not enough has been done to prevent gerrymandering, chief justice says

“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,” Chief Justice O’Connor said of the state constitution’s Article XI in her Thursday address, according to the Ohio Capital Journal.

The outlet noted that O’Connor was part of the court majority in seven cases in which maps drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature were rejected, including five state-level legislative district maps and two federal congressional district maps, for being too partisan and favorable for Republicans.

In that speech, she also sharply criticized the elected officials who comprise the Ohio Redistricting Commission — a top member of which had suggested O’Connor be removed over her repeated rejections of the redistricting maps — for having too much partisan control over the process and called for either the judiciary or a truly independent commission to have greater power and control over how redistricting maps are drawn.

Such an independent commission would be one “that distances a redistricting commission from partisan politics by not having elected officials on the redistricting commission,” and O’Connor added, “Let’s try having ordinary, sensible people who are not driven by politics, but rather by what’s fair: fair representation and justice.”

Will advocate on behalf of another constitutional amendment on redistricting process

Spectrum News1 reported that 71-year-old Chief Justice O’Connor, who has served for two decades on the Ohio Supreme Court, will be forced to retire at the end of this year due to judicial term limits in the state that bar judicial candidates from running after turning 70.

In her address, O’Connor said that in addition to spending more time with her family once she retired, she also planned to actively work on getting yet another proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ostensibly fix the purported deficiencies of the current Article XI that she has decried.

“The legislature could, of course, vote to place the amendment on the ballot, but what do you think the chances are? But absent that, securing hundreds of thousands of valid signatures will be necessary,” she said. “It will take many interested groups to secure the signatures for a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot. This is one thing that I hope to be involved with after December 31st.”

It will be interesting to see how those efforts play out over the next year or two. Spectrum noted that, due to a lack of time for additional changes, one of the redrawn maps rejected as unconstitutional will nevertheless be used in the November elections, though the high court ordered the legislature to redraw the maps yet again prior to the 2024 elections.

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