Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)

Ohio elections chief says O’Connor ‘violated her oath’ by rejecting GOP-drawn districts

BY: MARTY SCHLADEN – Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Friday said he “certainly wouldn’t oppose it” if the legislature impeached Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor over her joining in rulings rejecting GOP-generated maps for Congress and the legislature, according to a recording of a breakfast meeting with Union County Republicans.

LaRose, who is not a lawyer, said in the recording his fellow Republican “violated her oath of office by making up what she wants the law to say instead of interpreting what it actually says.”

O’Connor joined the court’s three Democrats in ruling multiple times that the congressional and legislative maps approved by a majority vote of Republicans violated the Ohio Constitution by unfairly favoring the GOP. 

Some Republican members of the legislature had previously raised the possibility of impeaching O’Connor, who will leave office at the end of the year. But LaRose, the state’s top elections official, is apparently the first of the five Republicans on the state’s seven-member redistricting commission to say he’d go along with it.

Such calls to effectively end the career of a judge because her rulings didn’t go the GOP’s way have been too extreme for at least one other Republican on the commission — Gov. Mike DeWine.

“This is an extraordinary measure to take,” he said when the idea was floated earlier this month. “I think we don’t 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. Not a good idea.”

LaRose’s spokesman was sent a transcript of the secretary’s comments about O’Connor. The spokesman was also asked whether LaRose believes judges should be removed whenever LaRose thinks they misinterpret the law — and whether such a belief undermines the entire purpose of having courts. The spokesman, Rob Nichols, didn’t respond to an email and a phone call.

LaRose made his comments about O’Connor at the Union County Republican Breakfast on Friday, according to a recording obtained by the Capital Journal. The source of the recording provided it on the condition of anonymity.

County Republican Party Chairman Justin Hogan didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

On the recording, the secretary of state was asked, “Can you talk about the ex-Republican O’Connor, should she be impeached?”

LaRose replied: “I think that she has not upheld her oath of office, and that to me is a basic test of a public servant. That’s up to the state legislature, whether they want to impeach the chief justice or not. I certainly wouldn’t oppose it.”

He was referring to repeated rulings in which O’Connor sided with the court’s Democrats in saying that maps passed by the Republican majority on the redistricting commission were illegally gerrymandered. 

In recent statewide elections, voters have supported Republicans by roughly a 54-46 margin. But the maps produced by Republicans favor the party to have much greater representation in the legislature and Congress.

They violate constitutional amendments overwhelmingly passed by Ohio voters requiring that the partisan makeup of the state legislature and congressional delegation resemble the general partisan makeup of the state, O’Connor has ruled.

GOP members of the commission were called to the state Supreme Court on Monday to show why they shouldn’t be held in contempt after ignoring maps generated by independent commissioners and passing another set of maps that again heavily favors Republicans.

The impasse has created a constitutional crisis in Ohio, with deadlines approaching for the primary, but no district boundaries in which candidates can run. LaRose on Friday acknowledged that impeaching O’Connor wouldn’t end the crisis, but on the recording said it might “feel really good.”

“I don’t know if it will solve our current problem because the impeachment process would take a couple months and we’re going to need to have district lines way before that,” he said. “And so it may feel really good, and it may be the right thing to do because she’s violated her oath of office by making up what she wants the law to say instead of interpreting what it actually says, but I don’t know if it would accomplish much, but I’d be fine with it if they did.”

LaRose didn’t explain how O’Connor misinterpreted the law, much less how such a misinterpretation would violate a justice’s oath of office.

The secretary of state’s sharp partisan tone is a stark departure from the bipartisan one LaRose struck when he initially ran for office in 2018.

At the time, he told The Columbus Dispatch that he wanted to “bring a sense of civility and bipartisanship to how we conduct elections.”

He added: “I want to be part of a party that wins elections because we work harder, have better candidates and we have better ideas.”

More recently, LaRose has taken a harsher line, including taking to Twitter twice in February to make sweeping, misleading attacks on a supposedly partisan news media, and saying former President Donald Trump is right to make his claims about voter fraud.

The Associated Press noted on Thursday that LaRose posted the first such tweet a day after learning he’d drawn two opponents in the Republican Primary. Both have parroted Trump’s false claims about rampant voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, AP reported.

MARTY SCHLADEN has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

Your comments can change our community

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.