Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Ohio Supreme Court in the Balance

Two justices on the Ohio Supreme Court are up for reelection this year: Justices Judi French and Sharon Kennedy. Both face serious challengers who, if elected, could shift the court significantly to the left.

Although Ohio judicial elections are nominally nonpartisan, candidates are selected in partisan primaries. Justices French and Kennedy are Republicans. Their challengers, former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Judge John P. O’Donnell, are Democrats. Party affiliations will not be listed on the ballot, however.

As currently constituted, the Ohio Supreme Court has four conservative justices (French, Kennedy, Patrick Fischer and Patrick DeWine), a centrist chief justice (Maureen O’Connor), and two liberals (Melody Stewart and Michael Donnelly). This 4-1-2 split could be reversed this fall if French and Kennedy are not reelected.

The French-Brunner race is worth particular attention. Justice French is a highly regarded justice, and received the highest rating of any candidate on the ballot from the Ohio State Bar Association. Her reputation is well deserved, as she is a sterling justice. [Disclosure: I chaired the committee that recommended her initial appointment to then-Governor John Kasich.] Jennifer Brunner, on the other hand, earned a reputation as a partisan Secretary of State (as the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted in their endorsement of French) and has not had a particularly distinguished record as a state appellate court judge. Having also run for U.S. Senate, Brunner gives the impression she is more interested in holding elected office than in serving on the judiciary.

Both Ohio Supreme Court races are important, but a Brunner victory over French would be a particularly large setback for the state.

Jonathan H. Adler — Mr. Adler is an NRO contributing editor and the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. His latest book is Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane.

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