Four candidates vie for two state Supreme Court seats in a highly-anticipated election.
BY MATTHEW DORON ‘23.
State judicial elections are typically ignored by voters, but this year’s elections are anything but typical. As Jeremy Pelzer of Cleveland.com wrote, “[this] year’s [elections] will be more important than usual, as they will decide whether Republicans or Democrats control a court that will almost certainly have a role in deciding whether congressional and legislative district lines … are improperly gerrymandered or not.”
In the upcoming 2020 election, four candidates are running for two seats on the Ohio Supreme Court. Republican incumbents Judith French and Sharon Kennedy are running for reelection, while Jennifer Brunner and John O’Donnell are hoping to give the Democrats a majority on the bench, something that hasn’t occurred since 1986.
Justice French previously served eight years as a judge on Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals and was first elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2013 to fill an unexpired term. During her time on the bench, she headed a committee to make Ohio’s sex-offender laws more effective. French has also argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, one being in defense of Cleveland’s school vouchers program, known as Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, in which the Court decided that Cleveland’s school voucher program did not violate the separation of church and state.
First elected in 2012, Justice Kennedy previously worked as a lawyer, a police officer and a magistrate in Butler County. In 2017, Kennedy refused to recuse herself from the highly publized case against the abortion clinic Capital Care Network in Toledo after publicly affiliating with anti-abortion organizations, against the wishes of many pro-choice activists who believed that her afilliations would create bias.
Judge Brunner previously served on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, as well as being elected secretary of state in 2006 and serving until 2011. After serving as secretary of state, Brunner ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, which she lost to then-Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who lost in the general election to Republican Rob Portman. She currently serves on Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals, where she has been on the bench since late 2014. Brunner’s campaign focuses heavily on the importance of voter registration and the influence of gerrymandering on elections.
Judge O’Donnell has served on the bench in Cuyahoga County since 2007 and is running for Ohio Supreme Court a third time. As with his previous campaign in 2016, a group of Black activists and politicians from Cleveland are mounting a campaign to hinder O’Donnell’s bid for Supreme Court. This group has stymied O’Donnell’s campaigns because he aquitted former Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo of charges of manslaughter in the shooting and deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2015. As a result, many Black voters are preparing to back Republican incumbent Kennedy instead of O’Donnell.
As voters rarely have information on candidates in state judicial races, both the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer have all stated via their respective editorial boards that they strongly support the upcoming candidate forum so that voters will have easy access to information about candidates in a race that is typically shrouded in mystery. The candidate forum is currently scheduled for Sept. 22 and will be both live streamed and offered for free for video use by the Ohio Debate Commission.
The 2020 election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3.