Ohio Election 2022: Three Supreme Court races critical in upcoming abortion, redistricting cases
Nearly half the Ohio Supreme Court is on this fall’s statewide ballot – three of seven seats, all of which are currently occupied by Republicans, are all up this year. A big change for those Supreme Court races this year, and the winners could play critical roles in major cases coming before the court soon.
“Ohio is one of the most important of the state Supreme Court races being contested his year,” said Louis Jacobson, senior columnist for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He cited redistricting as a reason.
Republican chief justice Maureen O’Connor has ruled with the court’s three Democrats that every Republican-approved map for the state House and Senate and for Congress was unconstitutionally gerrymandered. An age limit of 70 keeps O’Connor from running, and Jacobson notes two of the three Republican justices who voted to uphold those maps are up for re-election.
“Depending on what happens, if the Democrats get enough seats on the court, they could continue to press the redistricting issue,” Jacobson said. “If not, if the GOP sweeps, then it's probably a dead issue, at least for right now.”
First time candidates will be identified as Republicans or Democrats
While they’ve always run in partisan primaries, candidates for justice will be identified by party affiliation for the first time on the general election ballot this year. The chief justice race pits Republican Sharon Kennedy, who’s won her seat on the court three times, against Democratic former secretary of state and common pleas and appeals court judge Jennifer Brunner, first elected in 2020.
The loser stays on the bench. But if Brunner is elected chief, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine would appoint her replacement, because the chief’s term ends on December 31. And if Democrat Nan Whaley is elected governor, she wouldn’t take over until January 9th. If Kennedy is elected chief, another Republican would likely be added to the court by DeWine to finish out her term as an associate justice.
The other Republican associate justices, Pat Fischer and Gov. DeWine’s son Pat DeWine, are running against federal appeals court judges Terri Jamison, on the 10th District and Marilyn Zayas, from the 1st District.
Critical cases involving redistricting, abortion ahead
Along with redistricting, the state’s six-week abortion ban is likely to be before the court at some point. Former Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper noted many Democrats are campaigning on abortion rights.
“This is in many ways very low on your ballot, but in terms of the democracy and rule of law, the state of Ohio, as well as freedoms that have been protected for years that are now in the balance, these races may be the highest priority for a whole lot of voters once they see what's at stake,” Pepper said.
The three Republicans on the ballot all said in candidate surveys for Cincinnati Right to Life’s political action committee that they think life begins at fertilization. Kennedy, DeWine and Fischer say they don’t see any problem in filling out those surveys.
Groups backing the Republicans say they represent stability and judicial restraint in decisions that affect business, as opposed to what they view as activism, or creating laws from the bench.
“Predictability matters. The environment of our state matters. It's not one thing. It's a lot of things. But the Supreme Court can shake that predictability,” said Pat Tiberi, a Republican former congressman and the head of the Ohio Business Roundtable, when announcing that group’s endorsement of the three Republican justices.
Supreme Court contests drawing attention and money
The three races have drawn in a lot of money. This year the Republicans have raised around twice what their Democratic opponents did. But outside groups and even celebrities have gotten involved, including, for the Democrats, Julia Louis Dreyfus of “Seinfeld”.
“They ensure our right to vote, our reproductive freedoms, our liberty, and much much more,” said Louis-Dreyfus in a fundraising promo on Twitter.
And this year, there are more ads too, from Democrats supporting abortion rights and encouraging votes against “the Pats” – as in DeWine and Fischer – “to protect our freedom”. And there’s an ad from a Republican group going after the three Democratic judges as being “soft on crime”.
An Ohio State Bar Association committee says that ad violated its standards, and has asked the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Initiative to stop running it. But that group stands by the ad, which it spent $2 million putting on the air.
While not all the Republicans say they’re on board with the partisan labels on the ballot now, they did attend former president Trump’s rally in Youngstown in September, and he noticed.
“These are three very important people that I met tonight – Ohio Supreme Court Justices Sharon Kennedy, Pat Fischer and Pat DeWine,” Trump said from the stage, pointing them out to the crowd.
Brunner, Zayas and Jamison have also been campaigning together, primarily in smaller communities and rural areas for now. The last time Democrats held a majority on the court was 1994. Republicans have held at least four seats since then, and for several years they held all seven seats.