Judges are supposed to apply the law fairly without regard to their personal politics, and most of the time they at least claim to be doing so. At a campaign event on Saturday, however, Justice Judith French of the Ohio Supreme Court displayed some unusual candor in a speech introducing the state’s Republican Gov. John Kasich. “I am a Republican and you should vote for me,” French told the gathered crowd.
In case there was any ambiguity to what Justice French meant by this statement, she then went on to argue that her vote is needed to keep the state supreme court in the hands of justices who will uphold a Republican agenda:
“Whatever the governor does, whatever your state representative, your state senator does, whatever they do, we are the ones that will decide whether it is constitutional; we decide whether it’s lawful. We decide what it means, and we decide how to implement it in a given case.
“So, forget all those other votes if you don’t keep the Ohio Supreme Court conservative,” French said.
French has since walked back these remarks, claiming that “I’m not going to support Republican legislation; I’m not going to support Democratic legislation. It’s not my role.” In reality, however, her original statement is a fairly accurate reflection of how judges with highly partisan preferences tend to decide cases, at least when those cases are politically charged. In August, for example, the Washington Times examined how federal judges voted in cases involving the Affordable Care Act. They found that “Democratic appointees ruled in favor of Obamacare more than 90 percent of the time, while Republican appointees ruled against it nearly 80 percent of the time.”
In the federal judiciary, however, the appointments process at least creates some distance between a judge and pure partisan politics. In a state like Ohio where judges stand for retention elections, the experience of having to rally partisans to their cause is likely to render judges even more partisan than at the federal level.
(HT: Rick Hasen)