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Former Ohio chief justice teases involvement in redistricting reform




Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, Maureen O’Connor poses for a portrait in the Court Law Library Reading Room, December 8, 2022, at Supreme Court of Ohio in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

Last week, in one of her first public appearances since leaving the Ohio Supreme Court, former chief justice Maureen O’Connor maintained her pledge to help reform redistricting.

As the head of a court who rejected seven different Ohio redistricting maps, including five Statehouse and two U.S. Congressional maps, O’Connor is moving forward with her next stage in life by pushing for a new constitutional amendment on the topic.

“Now that I’m retired, I can be involved with efforts to maybe pass another constitutional amendment,” O’Connor told a recent public forum for the Columbus Metropolitan Club. “And this time, the constitutional amendment depoliticizes the (Ohio) redistricting commission.”

O’Connor previously committed to helping with anti-gerrymandering efforts in her last “state of the judiciary” speech to the Ohio Judicial Conference in September of last year. In the speech, she went so far as to say the current amendment to bar partisanship over and above what election results show “has no discernible or enforceable effect to curb gerrymandering in Ohio.”

Though the amendment hasn’t been drafted yet, O’Connor said she’s been “spending time … with a core group of people” to work on language that covers all angles and creates clarity in the process.

“That is the essence of what we need in our constitution: Clarity,” O’Connor said. “Not limitations, but clarity.”

The redistricting process, which has been ongoing since September 2021, came with heated debate over the language of the current constitutional amendment, which was created by the legislature, rather than an independent movement. The Ohio Redistricting Commission’s Republican and Democratic members fought over things as simple as the weight of the words “shall” and “should” in the constitutional amendment on redistricting.

Discussions on a new ballot measure to reform redistricting began one year into the process, in September 2022. Anti-gerrymandering advocates and O’Connor are hoping to have an amendment ready for voters in 2024.

“Even though, here we are early in ’23, you got to get cracking on it if it’s going to be on the ballot in 2024,” O’Connor said.

Though she didn’t talk about the attempt to change the vote proportion needed to pass constitutional amendments, O’Connor did criticize a bail amendment passed in the last election.

The former chief justice said Issue 1 on the 2022 ballot was “weaponized” during the campaigns for supreme court justices and the Ohio murder case in which a defendant appealed his high bail all the way to the the state supreme court was “totally distorted.”

“Never was it said that we won’t use high bonds to keep society safe, but (the case) recognized the constitutional right for a person to be innocent until proven guilty,” O’Connor said.

As a former co-chair for a national commission on court fines, fees, and bail, O’Connor said a system relying on money to get defendants to court is “a stupid system.”

A new system that provides reminders about court dates, much like dentist appointments or doctor’s visits, is much more sensible, she said.

The constitutional amendment was sold to voters as a requirement for judges to consider public safety when considering a bond, something O’Connor said was already happening.

“Duh,” she told the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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