In his farewell address, President George Washington warned in “the most solemn manner” of destructive partisan politics and the influence of political parties. Those words, echoed by other founders and subsequent presidents, have slowly been forgotten in the current world of hyper-partisanship. Now it seems several members of the Ohio legislature have forgotten, too.
In the final days of 2019, several Ohio State Representatives introduced House Bill 460. The legislation amends Ohio law to “allow a partisan judicial candidate to appear on the general election ballot with a political party designation.”
The bill, which would take effect in 2021, would send a message to Ohio residents that the judicial rulings and law of your state can be used for political gain. Political parties are partial by definition, as they have agendas and clear-cut biases. Therefore, why should Ohio allow such entities to influence what is supposed to be the most impartial body in our government?
The partisan encroachment on Ohio courts is nothing new, however. Currently, Ohio law permits judicial candidates to run in partisan primaries. The candidates who win their party’s primaries then face off in a nonpartisan general election, where political affiliation is absent from the ballot.
One of the bill’s chief co-sponsors, Rep. Stephen Hambley, R-Brunswick, stated in a news release that “Ohio already permits judicial candidates to have party affiliated advertisements and literature if they so choose. I believe it is time to give voters all the information they need to know about their judicial candidates on the ballot as they vote.”
Rep. Hambley has shown constituents and Ohio residents that court rulings can be bought and sold by political parties and their corporate counterparts.
The correlation between partisan court elections and corruption runs deep. In 2012, Billy Corriher of The Center for American Progress published a report detailing the phenomenon.
“Partisan primaries lead to judicial candidates who are clearly on the side of one interest group or another, and once on the bench, judges in states with expensive judicial races are dependent on special interests for their reelection,” Corriher wrote. “This leads to more partisanship on the bench—a court with clear conservative and liberal factions. If judges were deciding cases based on the law, one would expect that some cases would favor the plaintiff and some the defendant. That is not the case, however, in states with partisan nominating processes.”
The embodiment of partisan election — corrupt judge correlation — can be found in neighboring West Virginia, where Corriher explains how in 2004, it came to light that “a coal company executive spent millions” in an effort to “elect a justice who subsequently voted to overturn a $50 million verdict against his company.”
Instead of merely enabling and abetting this behavior, Ohio legislators need to demand more accountability and transparency in the state’s judicial process. Otherwise, you may find yourself face to face with a judge who has $50 million in their pocket.
Matthew Geiger is a freshman studying economics at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Matthew? Tweet him @Mattg444.