A Republican in the House of Representatives has left open the possibility of impeaching the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, who this week rejected the third legislative redistricting map proposed by Republicans.
In a private GOP caucus phone call Thursday, House Majority Leader Bill Seitz and Rep. Jon Cross expressed support for the impeachment of Justice Maureen O’Connor, according to a person on the call. . O’Connor, also a Republican, acted as a swing vote on two high-stakes redistricting cases and sided with the Democrats on the bench, finding the cards disproportionately favored Republicans in violation of the Constitution of Ohio.
Through a spokesperson, Seitz, a longtime Cincinnati lawmaker and influential caucus member, declined to comment on caucus discussions but said Friday that “nothing has been decided and all options are on the table”.
Cross, a Republican from Kenton, declined to comment, noting “we (I) don’t comment on caucus meetings.”
The call, which took place on Thursday afternoon, lasted about 20 minutes, the call source said. In it, Seitz presented an argument that included ancient precedent for the House to decide to remove a judge after an unfavorable court ruling.
When Cross offered what was described as a more spirited argument for impeachment, House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, ended the call, the source said. Cupp’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the caucus call or his position on the impeachment.
Cupp spent six years on the bench of the Ohio Supreme Court, serving alongside O’Connor throughout his tenure.
On Facebook Thursday, hours before the caucus call, Cross wrote “enough is enough,” and that O’Connor had violated Ohio law on changing the time, place or manner of ‘an election.
The assertion regarding Seitz’s support marks the longest-serving legislator in favor of the possibility of impeaching O’Connor. Also on Thursday, Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, chairman of the committee, said on social media “it’s time to impeach Maureen O’Connor now.”
It’s time to impeach Maureen O’Connor now.
— Representative Scott Wiggam (@Scott_Wiggam) March 17, 2022
The hubbub comes in response to the court’s redistricting decision late Wednesday night. A majority of four judges concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the most recent maps violated the constitution, including provisions prohibiting partisan patronage. Although uncertainty remains, the decision could force lawmakers to move the May primary election date or create a second primary election date for non-national races. In a letter this week, Secretary of State Frank LaRose indicated that the plan for now is to hold two separate primary elections.
Whether or not to pursue impeachment won’t be his decision, but Gov. Mike DeWine advised against that move on Friday.
“It’s an extraordinary step to take,” he said. “I think we don’t want to go down that road, because we don’t agree with a decision of a court, because we don’t agree with a decision of a judge or a judge of peace. Not a good idea.”
Three House Republicans publicly pitched the concept of impeach DeWine himself in 2020 for its response to COVID-19. The idea was going nowhere.
The Supreme Court is currently consider a second GOP-proposed congressional redistricting map after overturning the first effort on constitutional grounds.
Shortly before the redistricting fiasco, O’Connor publicly broke with Republicans on judicial integrity. The Republican Party of Ohio, ahead of the 2020 presidential election, lambasted a lower court ruling on election proceedings and Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye as “partisan judge”. In an unusual move, O’Connor called the statement “shameful” and “misleading” and emphasized the concept of judicial independence.
“This is a flagrant and unfounded attack on the independence of the Ohio judiciary,” she wrote.
“To accuse a judge of deciding the case before him on the basis of partisan politics and further accuse him of ‘obstructing his judicial accountability’ is baseless and is intended to fuel the false narrative that judges have no conscience, no legal responsibility and no ability to decide what the law is beyond the raw politics of the matter.
Impeachment would be an extreme reaction, but not without precedent. In fact, the Ohio Legislative Services Commission notes that all eight impeachments in Ohio history were against judges. For example, in 1808, members of the Ohio House were angry enough at a ruling by Judge George Tod to call for his removal. He survived thanks to a vote in the State Senate, according to the court. Judge Calvin Pease was dismissed and acquitted so around the same time.
The Ohio Supreme Court has given state lawmakers until March 28 to submit a new proposal. The Ohio Redistricting Commission, a bipartisan panel of state and legislative officials, is scheduled to meet on Saturday.
Morgan Trau contributed to this story.
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