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Campaign Contributions Create a Skewed Perception of Ohio's Supreme Court's Impartiality

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Campaign contributions continue to cast a dark cloud over the judiciary. Sadly, the poster child for why this has become a problem appears to be the Ohio Supreme Court which was the focus of a recent expose’ by the NY Times on the question as to whether money is polluting the independence of the judiciary

While Ohio certainly has some eminently qualified judges sitting on our states high court, the problem is self evident. Ohio’s Justice O’Donnell is reported to have voted for his contributors 91% of the time. The other justices averaged a favorable ruling for their contributors 70% of the time. Certainly a Judge’s judicial philosophy can draw the support and contributions of those who may be litigants in the court, however, the appearance is one of impropriety and a legitimate question is raised as to whether the Justice’s should recuse themselves when a contributor is appearing before them.

[S]tates use various methods to choose their judges. The approaches are often some combination of nominating commissions, governors’ and legislative action, and popular voting, including partisan contests and retention elections. Political machines still play a role in some states. In the federal system, by contrast, judges are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate and awarded lifelong tenure.

“Although there may be no good method of selecting and retaining judges, there is a worst method, and Ohio is among the states to have found it,” Paul D. Carrington and Adam R. Long wrote in a 2002 study of the Ohio Supreme Court in the law review of Capital University here in Columbus. “That worst method is one in which judges qualify for their jobs by raising very large sums of money from lawyers, litigants and special interest groups, and retain their offices only by continuing to raise such funds.” The problem, the authors found, is not a new one, but one that grows with the sums involved.