Ohio Supreme Court

From Academic Kids

The Ohio Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Ohio, with final authority over interpretations of the Ohio constitution. There are seven members of the court, one chief justice and six associate justices, each serving six-year terms.

All the seats on the court are elected at large by the voters of Ohio. Every two years, two of the associate justice seats are up for election. For one of those three elections in a cycle, the chief justice's seat is up for election. One need not be a judge or a lawyer in order to run for a seat on the court, although almost all are. There is an age limit, however: One may not run for a seat on the court if one is more than 70 years of age. This limit often forces the retirement of long-time justices. Current Justice Francis E. Sweeney Sr. is barred by this rule from running for re-election in 2004.

Officially, these elections are non-partisan. However, in practical terms, all this means is that party designations for the candidates are left off the ballot and justices are restricted in making public political statements. Major and minor parties all nominate candidates for the court in their primary elections. The vast majority of justices have been nominated by one of the two major parties, Democratic or Republican. Many of the individuals who have contested supreme court seats have also contested for other political offices, both state and federal.

Although Republicans have held a majority on the court since 1989, Republicans Andy Douglas and Paul Pfeifer often allied themselves with the Democratic minority (Francis E. Sweeney Sr. and Alice Robie Resnick) in order to overturn laws adopted by the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly. In particular, this majority of the court declared unconstitutional the state's scheme for funding public schools based on local property taxes (the DeRolph case). The court also struck down a law that limited injured workers from seeking both workers' compensation and civil damages. In 1999, the court overturned a law that would have limited awards in tort lawsuits, ruling that it was an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers for the legislature to try to limit the Supreme Court's authority over court procedure (State ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward, 86 Ohio St. 3d 451, 715 N.E.2d 1062 (Ohio 1999)). Each time the court overturned such a law, it was met with howls of protest and derision from the legislature, with calls for impeachment and threats to the salaries of the justices. This era ended with Douglas's retirement in 2001 and his replacement by former lieutenant governor Maureen O'Connor, who joined fellow Republicans in swinging the court in the other direction.

From January to May 2003, for the first time since the court's creation, the female justices outnumbered the male justices. This historic female majority comprised Republicans Deborah L. Cook, Maureen O'Connor, and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, and Democrat Alice Robie Resnick. This majority ended when Cook resigned from the court to accept an appointment to the federal bench. The other three women continue to serve on the court.

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