TIMES REPORTER: Ohio Supreme Court Justices Stress Importance of Judicial Restraint at Educational Forum

By Jon Baker

TimesReporter.com staff writer

Posted Jun 29, 2020

FRESNO, OH – At an educational forum Sunday, two Ohio Supreme Court justices stressed the importance of electing conservative jurists to the bench – and not activists who rewrite the law.

“I don’t think that I get to decide that I just don’t like a particular law,” said Justice Judi French, who added, “My job is to look at the law as it has been presented to me.”

French and Justice Sharon L. Kennedy, who are both up for reelection this year, attended the forum, which was held at Chili Crossroads Bible Church near Fresno in Coshocton County.

They fielded questions on the law for an hour and a half from the church’s pastor, Neal Dearyan, and those in attendance at the event.

They talked at length about judicial activism.

They both described themselves as conservatives who look at the Constitution the way that it was intended, do not use their power liberally and do not put “our own spin on what the Constitution or state law or even a contract would mean,” French said.

“I fundamentally believe in judicial restraint because if I am rewriting the law the way that Sharon Kennedy wants, we have nothing,” Kennedy noted. She added, “Because I wear a black robe doesn’t give me a third voice. It doesn’t give me the ability just to erase the words that were enacted.”

Both justices said they believe that changing the law should be left up to legislative bodies, not the courts.

“It’s you picking up the phone that changes Ohio or Washington,” Kennedy said. “It’s not one judge with a pen, or four judges at the Ohio Supreme. We would have nothing if that’s the way it happened.”

They also discussed the importance of citizens knowing who they are voting for when they select judicial candidates.

Ohioans have had the right to vote for judges since 1851 when the current state Constitution was adopted.

“It’s vital important that you know who they are and what their values are as a jurist before you make that decision,” Kennedy said. “But it’s very important to vote all the way down the ticket.”

On average, 25% of voters do not vote on judicial candidates during a gubernatorial election year, and 18% don’t vote in presidential election years, she said.

Judges are not identified by political party on the ballot, but Kennedy said it is not difficult for voters to find out information about the candidates and their philosophy, thanks to the internet. For example, her website includes her background, who has endorsed her and every opinion she has written.

“You have more tools available to you in today’s technology world to go out and find something out about every single candidate,” she said.

She urged voters to look at the background of judicial candidates and what they have done with their lives. People should also reach out to those candidates and question them about their philosophy.

“It really comes down to that judicial philosophy, and what you want is someone who is going to keep the law stable and consistent and predictable,” French advised. “So you do have to do that homework.”

The Ohio Supreme Court consists of six justices and the chief justice. They are elected to six-year terms.

The high court is Ohio’s court of last resort. The court hears appeals from the 12 district courts of appeals, state administrative agencies and all cases in which a death penalty is imposed. It has original jurisdiction over certain cases as established by the Ohio Constitution. The court also regulates the admission and practice of law.