Amid U.S. Supreme Court controversy, state judicial races could give voters their voice • Ohio Capital Journal

Bracing for a boatload of backward-looking, precedent-ignoring, legally-ludicrous ideological rulings from controlling extremists on the U.S. Supreme Court is unnerving, to say the least.

Compounding the dread of what’s to come are the ethical scandals and conflicts of interest swirling around some of the more dogmatic decision-makers on the bench.

In 2024, the highest court in the land is no respected bulwark of judicial integrity. How can it be, with disclosures of justices being wined and dined and flown to exotic locales aboard private jets by billionaire patrons with business before the court? How can it be with justices who refuse to disqualify themselves on highly consequential cases even as the conflicting interests they bring to the proceedings ensures that their impartiality might be reasonably questioned?

We’re stuck with a broken court of right wingers on a mission from MAGA. We can’t vote them out of lifetime appointments to SCOTUS. The president holds all the cards on that score.

It is the convicted felon running for his old White House job who built the court’s current hardline majority that ended half a century of abortion rights, rolled back a slew of other liberties and deregulated whatever public health and safety protections it could.

The court has dragged its feet on Donald Trump’s desperation for immunity to avoid prosecution over  the 2020 election he lost. Two justices poised to rule on that travesty, along with another Jan. 6 case, should be nowhere near either. Flags flown by rampaging insurrectionists on Jan. 6 were similar to ones flown at homes owned by Justice Samuel Alito.

Justice Clarence Thomas is married to a MAGA zealot involved in the attempted coup that culminated on Jan. 6. All we can do is watch as public trust in the institution drops to zilch and wait for the flood of major rulings to engulf us in despair. Our fate is sealed. For generations.

Our recourses to fix what’s horribly wrong at the Supreme Court are limited to who we put in the Oval Office and elect to the U.S. Senate. But in Ohio, voters can fix what’s wrong with their state supreme court and change what doesn’t work for them. They can retire justices who are unethical, don’t recuse themselves in cases with obvious conflicts of interest, or reliably rule as partisans, not impartial jurists.

Ohioans hold all the cards on who sits on the state supreme court and impacts their lives. Besides judicial temperament and stellar track record, there’s the question of a candidate’s fealty to law regardless of a party. Will the state’s constitutional right to abortion be upheld as approved by an overwhelming majority of voters or be whittled away on a party line vote of the court?

Will Ohio’s gerrymandering, skewing legislative and congressional districts to unfairly advantage one party, be struck down as a lawless mockery of the state constitution or be sustained in perpetuity by one party in the court’s majority?

Unfortunately, thanks to a 2021 Republican-backed law, political affiliation has gained outsized importance in Ohio court races. The measure politicized judicial elections as a means to partisan ends (more Republican judges). It requires certain judicial candidates, including state supreme court justices, to now run with partisan labels.

Voters typically know little and care less about court races on the bottom of the ballot. Party labels attached to candidates running for judgeships make choices easier for the uninformed inclined to vote a straight-party ticket in a red state growing redder. The partisan tags, first applied to supreme court justices in the 2022 general election, worked like a charm. Republicans swept all three supreme court races to cement a 4-3 majority on the bench.

It’s up to Ohio voters now. Between now and Nov. 5, do some homework on Ohio’s super high stakes down-ballot supreme court races. Start here and here and here. Be an engaged voter. Not a lazy one.

Who gets the last word on state laws in Ohio cannot be left to chance or to partisan labels meant to obscure unqualified, unprincipled players. Or we’ll be bracing for an Ohio Supreme Court that mirrors SCOTUS.


Anna Harden

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