Ohio officials disregarded a supreme court order. A former justice says it’s happened before

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Former Ohio Supreme Court justice Paul Pfeifer said the court has the ability to hold the Ohio Redistricting Commission in contempt of court for not following its order to adopt new state legislative district maps.

Ohio State Supreme Court building
The State Supreme Court building. [Dan Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]
The commission adjourned Thursday afternoon with hours to go before a court-ordered deadline to draw new House and Senate district maps.Republican commissioners said it was not possible for the group to draw new district lines that complied with the court’s ruling and the state constitution — a point adamantly rejected by Democratic members.Those Democratic commissioners proposed their own map which they said would comply with the court order, however the GOP members voted against that plan.Pfeifer said there were a few times during his time on the bench when the court’s orders were not followed.The most infamous example was the case over Ohio’s school funding formula, DeRolph v. State of Ohio. The case appeared before the Ohio Supreme Court four times, and four times the property taxes-based funding mechanism for local schools was deemed unconstitutional.However, as Pfeifer explains, the court never took action against the Ohio General Assembly for failing to act.

Pfeifer recalls a time when the court held a state government official in contempt. It was when the Ohio Department of Natural Resource failed to pay property owners along Grand Lake St. Marys for flood damage so the court found former ODNR Director Jim Zehringer in contempt of court.

“I don’t think that sent shivers down the spine of the director of natural resources because he was taking orders from Gov. Kasich at the time and he’s not going to violate his bosses orders. It didn’t really matter that the court found him in contempt,” said Pfeifer.

The former justice and current executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference said unless additional penalties are attached, holding an official in contempt doesn’t do much.

“Certainly the director of natural resources didn’t go to jail or face any financial penalty, personal penalty at all. So it’s sort of a toothless tool, contempt is,” Pfeifer said.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio has filed a motion asking the court to require an explanation for why Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission failed to comply with the court order to adopt new House and Senate district maps.