COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Republican Party has asked Ohio Justice Jennifer Brunner to step aside in hearing cases tied to redistricting Ohio’s state legislative district boundaries because of public stands she and her political supporters have taken on the issue.
Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Paduchik cited several instances where Brunner, who is now running for chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, acknowledged the potential for redistricting litigation and the role the state’s high court might play during her campaign.
Those comments, Paduchik said, call into question her impartiality to hear the three cases now before the court.
“We take Justice Brunner at her word. Based on her actions and statements, it’s clear her decision on redistricting litigation is predetermined, and therefore she is subject to recusal,” Paduchik said in the press release. “Ohio residents deserve an impartial constitutional review of the newly drawn legislative districts, and Justice Brunner is incapable of providing a fair opinion.”
The Brunner campaign for chief justice summarily dismissed the Ohio GOP’s challenge.
“There is no need for me to recuse on these cases,” Brunner wrote in response to an inquiry from The Ohio Star.
Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved a four-year map for Ohio Senate and Ohio House districts in mid-September after failing to get a consensus with Democrat members on a 10-year map based on results of the 2020 U.S. Census in Ohio. That map preserves a GOP supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly.
But it also prompted lawsuits now before the high court.
The GOP challenge also could be viewed as a tit-for-tat response as left-leaning plaintiffs in September had called for Ohio Justice Pat DeWine to recuse himself because his father, Governor Mike DeWine, is a member of the commission. Justice Pat DeWine declined that request.
Brunner and supporters had made various statements regarding redistricting during her campaign to join the Ohio Supreme Court and in post-election statements.
A December 13, 2019 Brunner press release announcing her 2020 run for the Ohio Supreme Court quotes Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, who specifically pointed to Brunner’s one-term as Ohio secretary of state and her future role in potential redistricting litigation as a justice.
“As Ohio implements a new way to draw its district lines after the 2020 election,” the Perez statement read, “I can think of no one better than (Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals) Judge Brunner to ensure districts are fair.”
More recently, Brunner, on August 22, tweeted:
“As secretary of state, I saw firsthand how citizen participation makes a difference. Public hearings start this week for the Ohio Redistricting Commission. This only happens once every 10 years, You can participate. Please share with friends.”
The GOP also noted Brunner has strong connections with the League of Women Voters and the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, the latter of which endorsed her 2020 campaign specifically citing redistricting. The League and the Action Fund’s parent organization, the Ohio Environmental Council, are plaintiffs parties in the third lawsuit.
Meantime, the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled the members of the commission do have to stand for depositions in the lawsuits.
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Brian R. Ball is a veteran Columbus journalist covering the Ohio Statehouse for The Ohio Star and Star News Network. Send him news tips at [email protected]
Photo “Jennifer Brunner” by Jennifer Brunner Committee. Background Photo “Ohio Capitol” by Steven Miller. CC BY 2.0.