Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

BY: JAKE ZUCKERMAN – Ohio Capital Journal

Columbus, Ohio – The ranking Democrat in the Ohio House said Attorney General Dave Yost has blocked her from legal representation as the Ohio Supreme Court reviews the latest redistricting proposal from state lawmakers.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission voted 5-2 along party lines Saturday to send over a revised map after the court overturned its first effort, determining it to be an unconstitutional gerrymander.

Democrats on the commission have previously been represented by their own counsel and submitted their own arguments — distinct from Republicans on the committee. House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Columbus, said in a statement Wednesday however that Yost has since blocked them from their legal representation. This comes as a deadline looms for the state officials to respond to objections to the GOP-approved map submitted for the court’s review.

Through spokeswoman Maya Majikas, Russo said Yost is “denying” her “the ability to consult with her legal counsel,” two attorneys with the Ice Miller law firm in Columbus retained through the attorney general’s office.

“Leader Russo is being denied her outside counsel representation at this stage of the litigation period,” Majikas said. “Ice Miller is not permitted by the AG to provide Democrats counsel/bills for any service to us.”

Yost seemed to confirm Russo’s central claim through spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle on Wednesday evening.

“The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Commission to draw a new map, which is why one counsel will respond to the court on behalf of the entire commission,” McCorkle said. “None of the individual members will respond separately.”

Democratic members of the commission are technically named as defendants in the lawsuit. However, their interests largely align with the plaintiffs — a spread of special interest and voting rights organizations — and against Republicans on the commission who defended the maps.

This has put the Democrats in the unusual position of arguing, as a defendant in the case, that the court should do what the plaintiffs want.

“The Republican Legislative Commissioners prepared maps so lopsided that Republicans are essentially guaranteed veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly no matter how many votes Democrats earn,” the Democrats’ lawyers wrote in court filings.

The Supreme Court, overturning the legislative maps, found they likely guaranteed Republicans a supermajority in defiance of voter’s preferences, as required by the constitution. They ordered the commission to draw a map as close as possible to the state’s 54% Republican to 46% Democratic partisan tilt.

The newest proposal would create a projected 57-42 split in the House and 20-13 split in the Senate, far more advantageous for Democrats than the original. However, the Democrats’ margins are much tighter. For instance, in the House, 12 of the “Democratic leaning” seats in the latest map could also be considered tossups, with a Democratic edge of only 50-51%. All of the GOP-leaning seats favor Republicans by more than 52%.

The plaintiffs who challenged the first map filed objections to the Ohio Supreme Court over the edited version this week. They argued it still disproportionately favors Republicans in violation of anti-gerrymandering Constitutional amendment approved by voters.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission — comprised of four, bipartisan legislative appointees along with the governor, state auditor and secretary of state — was ordered to respond to the objections by Friday.

The commission itself is represented by two lawyers. The statewide officeholders and Republicans on the commission have their own lawyers as well. Even if, as Yost said, the commission’s members don’t respond individually, it’s likely that Republicans who control it will likely shape its arguments.

Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, the other Democrat on the committee, did not respond to an inquiry to his office.

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.
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