Bench Memos

The Race for Ohio’s Supreme Court

The Ohio primary is on March 15. While most attention will be focused on the Presidential race, and whether any of the remaining candidates can defeat Trump in this winner-take-all state, there are other significant races on the ballot.  One race that some voters might overlook is for the Ohio Supreme Court. That would be a mistake. Three of the Court’s seven spots are up this term, and there is a contested primary for one of them.

The first Ohio Supreme Court spot is that of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. She’s the only incumbent running and is unopposed in either the primary and the general. She’s a popular justice, and O’Connor is a great name to have on Election Day in Ohio.

The second spot is that of retiring Justice Paul Pfeifer, who has reached Ohio’s mandatory retirement age. (Candidates may not run for judicial office, even for re-election, once they are 70.) Pfeifer is a nominal Republican, but has been the most liberal justice on the Court for years. Two state appellate judges are vying to replace him.  The Republican is Pat DeWine. The Democrat is Cynthia Rice. DeWine, who is the son of state Attorney General Mike DeWine, is quite sharp, but may face a difficult race. He was not recommended for election by the Ohio State Bar Association.

The third spot, that of retiring Justice Judith Lanzinger, is where things get interesting. The Democratic candidate is Cleveland common pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell. On the other side, the race is contested. The leading Republican primary candidate is (or at least should be) Judge Pat Fischer.  Judge Fisher sits on a state appellate court in Cincinnati and has the party endorsement. He has extensive experience and is the past president of the Ohio State Bar Association. I met Judge Fischer when he interviewed for an Ohio Supreme Court vacancy a few years ago and was quite impressed. He possesses the principles and intellect to be a positive influence on the court. I will be supporting him on March 15.

Running against Pat Fischer is Judge Colleen O’Toole. Like Fischer, Judge O’Toole sits on a state appellate court. Not only does she lack the party’s endorsement, she also has a history of both filing and being on the receiving end of election-related ethics complaint.  In 2012, for instance, she was sanctioned for representing herself as an incumbent judge during a campaign when she was not actually a sitting judge at the time. IT’s not entirely clear why she’s running, other than ambition — and with an Irish surname, she could be a serious candidate. Nonetheless, I believe Fischer is a significantly better choice.

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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