Section: News

Brunner and Kennedy square off for Ohio chief justice

On Election Day, Nov. 8, the state of Ohio will vote on several new justices for the Ohio Supreme Court. The court has been under Republican control since 1986, but is being challenged this year by strong Democratic candidates. Though Ohio is a primarily red state, the Democratic party has succeeded in getting Democratic justices on the Supreme Court in recent elections.  

The election has received extra attention due to recent abortion laws in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Democrats want the court to rule against Ohio’s six-week ban, which was struck down by a county court earlier this month, but Republicans want the law upheld. Another issue likely to be ruled on is LGBTQ+ rights. The Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, previously passed by Arkansas in 2021, would ban gender-affirming care for LGBTQ+ minors. Along with the SAFE Act, the Save Women’s Sports Act prohibits transgender girls and women from participating in athletics with cisgender girls and women.  

Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is leaving her position since she has surpassed its 70-year age limit. O’Connor has served in a statewide office longer than any other woman in Ohio history. In the running to succeed her are Justice Sharon Kennedy (R) and Justice Jennifer Brunner (D). It has been 11 years since this position was last open. After the election is called, Governor Mike DeWine will appoint a justice to the seat left vacant by the new chief justice.

Along with Chief Justice, two additional seats are being contested. Justice Pat DeWine is being challenged by Democrat Marilyn Zayas, the 1st District Court of Appeals Judge. Justice Pat Fischer is running against Terri Jamison, the 10th District Court of Appeals Judge. If Zayas wins, she will become the first Latina to serve on an Ohio high court. If Jamison wins, she’ll become the third Black woman to serve on an Ohio high court. Out of the 162 justices that have served since 1803, four have been Black and 13 have been women. 

Polls from USA Today Network Ohio and the Suffolk University Political Research Center show that all three races are close. For chief justice, Kennedy has a slight margin of 0.4% over Brunner. The DeWine-Zayas and Fischer-Jamison races currently are in favor of the Republican justices, both leading their respective polls by about 2%.

In the upcoming election, judicial candidates will have party ballot designation for the first time, in accordance with a bill passed by the House last year. This bill was passed in an effort to increase voter participation in Supreme Court races; according to Ohio Capital Journal, more than 1 million Ohio voters left the two Supreme Court races blank in the 2020 election, presumably because they did not know the party affiliation of each candidate. It remains to be seen whether or not party designation will have any effect on the participation in, and the outcome of, this year’s Ohio Supreme Court election.

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