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Some Ohio Republicans raise talk about impeaching Chief Justice over redistricting decisions

Liesl Bonneau

Some Ohio Republicans are floating the idea of impeaching Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who has sided with the Ohio Supreme Court’s three Democrats in ruling all the maps produced by the GOP dominated Redistricting Commission are unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

But two former Ohio Supreme Court justices said the calls to impeach O’Connor are rare and not serious.

While some Republicans have been sharing this idea quietly, Rep. Scott Wiggam tweeted out “it’s time to impeach Maureen O’Connor now”.

But Gov. Mike DeWine – who’s voted for every map that O’Connor and the three Democratic justices have ruled unconstitutional – is opposed.

“I don’t think we want to go down that pathway because we disagree with a decision by a court, because we disagree with a decision by an individual judge or justice,” DeWine said.

Republican former Justice Paul Pfeifer now heads the Ohio Judicial Conference, which is made up of all seven Supreme Court justices and more than 700 other judges. Pfiefer said lawmakers have raised impeachment in anger over Supreme Court decisions in the past.

"A lot of legislators are furious with the chief justice, make no mistake about that. But there won't be any follow through with any chatter about impeachment. That just won't happen,” Pfeifer said.

Bill O’Neill was the lone Democratic justice on the Court for years, and said he voted most often with Maureen O’Connor.

"She was reasonable then, she's being reasonable now,” O’Neill said. “I'm embarrassed for the people of Ohio that anybody would suggest that you put the word impeachment and chief justice in the same sentence."

Both Pfeifer and O’Neill said there’s always tension among the justices, but O’Connor’s decision to side with the three Democratic justices over redistricting isn’t related to that.

O’Connor, who was Gov. Bob Taft’s lieutenant governor, has been chief justice for 20 years. She can’t run for re-election because of Ohio’s age limit on justices.

Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner is running to replace O’Connor. Brunner will face Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy, who’s written some sharply worded dissents and criticized O’Connor directly last month for asking the Redistricting Commission members to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt, saying the chief justice didn’t have that authority.

In 2020, O'Connor spoke out on attacks leveled by her fellow Republicans against a Franklin County judge who sided with Democrats who sued over Secretary of State Frank LaRose's order that each county could only have one secure ballot drop box. She wrote in a statement that she condemned a statement from the Ohio Republican Party that labeled him a "partisan judge" and closed with these lines: "Attacks on the judiciary only serve to undermine the public’s confidence in the courts. Attacks such as these, no matter the source, reflect poorly, not on the judiciary, but on the leadership of those who would perpetrate them."

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.