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Supreme Court Justices Face Recusal Calls Over New Legislative Maps

 A gavel commissioned by the Ohio State Bar Association sits outside the Ohio Supreme Court building in downtown Columbus.
Daniel Konik
Ohio Public Radio
A gavel commissioned by the Ohio State Bar Association sits outside the Ohio Supreme Court building in downtown Columbus.

A challenge to newly approved state legislative district maps has prompted separate calls for Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from the case. One is because of a family connection, the other for political statements.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine is refusing to recuse himself from three court cases involving state House and Senate maps approved last monthby the Ohio Redistricting Commission on which his father, Gov. Mike DeWine, sits.

Cleveland State University’s Marshall College of Law Professor Doron Kalir said it would have been proper for Justice DeWine to recuse himself from hearing the cases for two reasons. One, because the case went straight to the state’s high court and his father, Gov. DeWine, is directly involved as a defendant.

Secondly, Kalir said Justice DeWine should've stepped down on the redistricting cases because Gov. DeWine sits on the commission that made the maps being challenged.

“I’m not suggesting and I want to be on record on that that Justice DeWine would be biased or be influenced by any of those elements," Kalir said. "But I am suggesting that the appearance of the confluence of this confluence of those elements coming in one case and then the justice refuses to recuse himself may compromise the public opinion on the judiciary."

Kalir cites precedentthat shows the mere appearance of bias is a reason enough to step down from hearing a case. He also notes the U.S. Supreme Court might be slightly more interested in picking up one of the Ohio redistricting cases if they are asked because it could be used as a vehicle since it could be used to overturn that earlier precedent.

Justice DeWine, in a written statement, said there’s no reason for him to recuse himself. He said his father is just one of seven members on that redistricting commission and has less influence crafting those maps than he’d have over a state agency or department.

The five Republicans on the commission voted for the maps, with the two Democrats voting against them. The statement defending the maps from Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman said they are expected to favor Republicans in 62 of 99 House districts and in 23 of 33 Senate seats, guaranteeing GOP supermajorities in both chambers.

The lawsuits filed against the maps claim that they are unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Republican Party has called on Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner, one of the Democrats on the court, to recuse herself because of her comments about redistricting in her campaign last year. But that was not a subject that came up in the single debate the four candidates for the court participated in last October.

The first of the three cases, the one filed by the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, will be argued before the Ohio Supreme Court on December 8.

A second suit was filed by the National Redistricting Action Fund, led by Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General under President Obama. A third was filed by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Ohio, the Ohio Environmental Council, five Democratic voters and Sam Gresham, who’s with Common Cause Ohio.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.