Gavel Grab

Plan to Appoint Judges Is Floated in Ohio

Ohio Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer wants to give citizens a chance to vote on replacing competitive elections for the state Supreme Court with a judicial appointment plan aimed at reducing the influence of big campaign cash and partisan politics.

Under a proposal discussed at a two-day conference, when a vacancy occurs on the court, Ohio’s governor would pick a new justice from among three names recommended by a bipartisan panel, according to an article in the Columbus Dispatch. After two years, the justice would run in a retention election, with no challenger. In later years, retention elections would be held regularly.

To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, supporters could collect more than 400,000 signatures from registered voters or persuade three-fifths of lawmakers in the House and Senate to put it on the ballot.

Justice Moyer, who is stepping down in 2010, said he would like to see the cause taken up by legislators. At the conference, attended by  political, legal, business and civic leaders, 78 percent of participants backed the idea of putting the shift on a ballot, said Justice Moyer and Barbara J. Howard, president of the Ohio State Bar Association, and Meg G. Flack, president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

The state’s governor, Ted Strickland, was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “Voters expect legislators and elected executives to advocate for outcomes…But nothing is more damaging to the administration of justice than the public’s belief that any portion of a judge’s actions has been guided by a preference for a specific outcome.”

A report in a second newspaper, the Toledo Blade, suggested Strickland did not endorse eliminating judicial elections. “Absolutely, I will continue to live within the current system until it’s changed. It would be foolish not to do so,” Strickland said. “I don’t believe that any easy solution exists to the issues addressed by this forum.”

Justice Moyer, elected four times, is the longest-sitting chief justice in the country, the newspaper said. He also is a member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors. At the close of the conference, “A Forum on Judicial Selection: A Time for Action,” Justice Moyer promised, “Early next year we will propose a specific plan that we will take back to the partner organizations for formal consideration,” according to the Dayton Daily News. “What we have learned these two days is that we can do better in Ohio.”

Between 2000 and April 2008, Ohio ranked first in the nation for the $20 million spent on TV ads in Supreme Court races. You can find out more in the Justice at Stake report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections in the Great Lakes: 2000-2008,” and you can learn more about merit selection from Justice at Stake’s issues page on the topic.

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