SUDDES: General Assembly has “creative” view of three branches of government



Ohioans have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving week, not least for a state constitution that offers the state’s voters a direct check-and-balance when the General Assembly goes haywire.

That check and balance, ratified by voters in 1912 – as the statewide initiative and referendum – was crafted by a constitutional convention fed up with special-interest Statehouse wire-pullers.

And voters may need to keep those voter-protections handy, given the continuing or threatened antics of the General Assembly:

At a very minimum, perhaps members of the state Senate and Ohio House of Representatives should be required to pass a proficiency test on the state constitution.

Two weeks ago, 57% of the Ohioans voting on the ballot issue decided to protect abortion access with a voter-initiated constitutional amendment. The polls had barely closed when a quartet of Ohio House Republicans vowed to pass a bill that, in effect, would attempt to forbid Ohio’s judges to enforce the pro-choice amendment, known as Issue 1.

There are, of course, a few hinky things about such a judicial ban, starting with the fact the courts – as one of the three branches of state government – have the inherent power to review and interpret laws..

Announced sponsors of the bill to bypass judges on Ohio abortion law (and, in effect, to cancel the votes of the 2.19 million Ohioans who voted “yes” on Issue 1), are Republican state Reps. Jennifer Gross, of suburban Cincinnati’s West Chester; Melania Miller, of Ashland; Bill Dean, of Xenia; and Beth Lear, of Galena. House Speaker Jason Stephens, a Republican and a “no” on Issue 1, virtually ruled out passage of the judge-nullification measure; but besides, courts would spike the bill before its ink was dry.

The question naturally arises as to how people can get elected to the General Assembly with such a ... creative ... view of the way the three branches of government are supposed to work. The same is true of members of Congress who may also think that courts shouldn’t be ruling on constitutional challenges, although that power was entrenched long ago in American law. Here’s one answer for such thinking in Congress, but it’s also applicable to the General Assembly, recently reported by Annie Karni and Catie Edmondson of the New York Times:

“In the [U.S.] House ... gerrymandering has made most Republican seats so safe that lawmakers routinely cater to the far-right wing of their party. … The result has been that House Republicans continue to draft legislation that is out of step with a vast majority of voters, including some of their own constituents, on social issue,” they wrote.

Put another way, if you get elected by the Flat Earth Society, you sponsor bills to declare that the Earth is flat – and maybe require that to be taught in Ohio schools.

That at times is the story of the Ohio General Assembly today, and why a prospective Ohio anti-gerrymandering plan, Citizens, Not Politicians, is aiming for the November 2024 statewide ballot. That’ll likely be a high turnout election because of 2024′s presidential contest and, also likely, a donnybrook between U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, and whichever Republican GOP voters nominate to challenge Brown’s election to a fourth term.

If Citizens, Not Politicians, draws enough voter signatures, and then wins voter approval statewide next November, the measure would, at long last, let Ohioans pick their legislators rather than, as now, let legislators pick their Ohioans – which has made the General Assembly a rubber stamp for political insiders and a fountain of corporate welfare.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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