COLUMBUS, Ohio — Opponents of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's privatized jobs agency said Wednesday the state's Constitution will be left defenseless if their politically diverse coalition is not granted standing to proceed with its constitutional challenge.
In oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court, a lawyer for the liberal policy group ProgressOhio and two Democratic lawmakers who brought the suit said the law creating JobsOhio contained almost insurmountable legal hurdles.
That included a 90-day window to sue that closed before the office could have had any impact on a potential plaintiff.
"It appears as though nobody has standing if the plaintiffs here do not have standing, and this causes judicial review to evaporate in instances like this," attorney Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law told the court.
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor appeared skeptical: "So you're saying by virtue of the fact you pulled the trigger (and sued JobsOhio), that gives you standing?"
State attorney Stephen Carney argued that plenty of parties had a legitimate right to sue JobsOhio, they just chose not to. He argued those with standing must have an individual stake in the case, not be pursuing generalized "public interest."
Those with a stake include public employees who might have been harmed as state development functions began to be handed over to the private entity in 2011, or bondholders and liquor dealers affected by the transfer of Ohio's spiritous liquor business to fund the entity, he said.
"It sets a short timeline, sure, but so do lots of statutes," he said.
So far in the 2011 lawsuit, lower courts have found that opponents lack standing to go forward with the underlying constitutional challenge. ProgressOhio challenges the public-private arrangement enjoyed by JobsOhio.
Justice Paul Pfeifer questioned the state's arguments Wednesday, saying the JobsOhio law seemed to erect a wall between citizens and the courthouse and the standing dispute is about finding a door in that wall.
"The Legislature can't tell the citizens of Ohio, 'Well, we can do something so unconstitutional and if you don't contest it and get a court to say it's unconstitutional in 90 days, tough luck,'" Pfeifer said.
Justice Judith French told Thompson she found ProgressOhio's legal basis for standing unclear.
"I don't know where your argument starts," she said. "I know where the state's argument starts, because it starts with the Constitution."
Also watching the case is the conservative Ohio Roundtable, whose anti-slots lawsuit hinges on the justices' decision on standing. The libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed a supporting brief in the JobsOhio lawsuit.
"What better plaintiffs could you have than those conservative, libertarian and progressive organizations that as a mission oppose corporate welfare and seek to enforce these corporate welfare limits in Ohio's Constitution?" Thompson told reporters after arguments.