Ohio Supreme Court election now features party affiliations

Catie Pusateri, Reporter

For the first time in Ohio’s history, the Ohio Supreme Court election on Nov. 8 will display each candidate’s political party affiliation on the ballot. Last year, Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 80, which allowed partisan elections for the Ohio Supreme Court and appellate court elections. Ohio now joins seven other states who participate in partisan elections for their Supreme Courts.

Three seats on the Ohio Supreme Court are up for election this November, including the chief justice seat currently held by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor (R) who cannot run for reelection because Ohio has a judicial age limit of 70.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade looming over this year’s midterm elections, the Ohio Supreme Court race is one to watch in regards to reproductive rights. Gov. DeWine signed a law in 2019 banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be detected as early as six weeks, but this law has been blocked by a judge. Abortion is currently legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks, according to ACLU Ohio.

Reproductive rights are just one issue voters are paying attention to in this election, and Iris Meltzer, the board president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said voters should also pay attention to which Supreme Court candidates are likely to support their own personal positions.

“This Supreme Court at the state level is likely to be ruling on abortion rights,” Meltzer said. “They will probably again, they’re all absolutely going to have to rule again on gerrymandering. […] So it’s important for people to know what their positions are on those issues, and then look at how current justices, whether on the Supreme Court or in other judicial roles, have ruled and make their choices accordingly.”

Gerrymandering has also been a topic of interest heading into this election as the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the congressional map is unconstitutional in a 4-3 decision. Though the map was deemed unconstitutional, it will still be used in the November elections since it was used in the primary election this past spring, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Matthew Keyes, the communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party, said that if a Republican majority remains on the Court, a total abortion ban could be allowed to go into effect. The communications director for the Ohio Republican Party did not respond to an interview request.

“Ultimately, I think that the court has become too political, and that the goal should be to kind of take politics out of the court because, again, we’ve seen so much politics emanating from the current court especially and the Republicans who sit on it,” Keyes said. “I’m hopeful we can at some point get back to a court that’s focused on fairness and the rule of law rather than kind of the political party in power.”

Since incumbent Maureen O’Connor (R) is not seeking reelection to the chief justice position, current Justices Sharon Kennedy (R) and Jennifer Brunner (D) are campaigning for the position. Justices Kennedy and Brunner are already sitting justices, which means that whichever candidate wins the chief justice election will leave an empty position on the court. Gov. DeWine will then appoint a judge to the open position on the court, and many expect him to appoint a Republican.

Justice Kennedy was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2012. Before her time on the Ohio Supreme Court, she was a judge at the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division starting in 1999 and then became an administrative judge of that division in 2005. Kennedy got her start in the justice system as a police officer at the Hamilton Police Department.

Justice Brunner began her term in the Ohio Supreme Court in 2021, and previously served as an elected state appeals court judge of the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Franklin County. Brunner was also Ohio’s first female Secretary of State from 2007 to 2011.

As for the other two open seats on the court, Justices Pat Fischer and Pat DeWine are running for reelection against Judges Terri Jamison and Marilyn Zayas respectively. If either Judge Jamison or Zayas wins, there will be a Democratic majority on the Ohio Supreme Court at 4-3.

Justice Pat Fischer (R) has been on the Ohio Supreme Court since 2017, and is running for reelection. He was a judge on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals before joining the Ohio Supreme Court, and has also served as the president of the Ohio State Bar Association and president of the Cincinnati Bar Association.

Judge Terri Jamison (D), a judge on the Tenth District Court of Appeals for Ohio, would be the third Black woman on the Ohio Supreme Court if elected. Before founding her multi-line insurance agency which she operated for 16 years and attending law school, Jamison worked as an underground coal miner in West Virginia.

Justice Pat DeWine (R) has been on the Ohio Supreme Court since 2017. Before joining the Ohio Supreme Court, Justice DeWine served four years on the First District Court of Appeals and four years on the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. He is also the son of Gov. DeWine.

Judge Marilyn Zayas (D) currently serves on the First District Court of Appeals and has been on the court since 2016. She instituted a program called “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders” which welcomes students into the Court of Appeals to learn about the law. If elected, Judge Zayas would be the first Latina woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court.

“When you go and vote, what you’re really voting for is the future that you wish to have,” Judge Zayas said. “Regardless of the outcome of that election or that seat, you have still provided a voice into the future that you want to have and you have moved that pendulum forward.”

Catie Pusateri is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]