Ohio

June 3, 2022
Current partisan makeup% Justices of Color
4R-3D14%
JusticePartyTerm ExpirationMandatory Retirement
Jennifer BrunnerD20262032
Sharon L. KennedyR20262032
Pat DeWineD20222040
Pat FischerR20222028
Michael P. DonnellyD20242036
Melody StewartR20242036
Maureen O’ConnorRmust retire2022

The Ohio Supreme Court has issued key decisions impacting workers, your power at the ballot box, the environment, and the future of young people.

From employment protections and worker safety, to the rights of students and young people, to corporate accountability for consumers and the public, state courts are critical to deciding your everyday rights. And, since the U.S. Supreme Court has given states jurisdiction over voting rights and redistricting matters, state courts have an outsized impact on every person’s access to the ballot.  

In a 2015 voter referendum, Ohioans overwhelmingly approved anti-gerrymandering reforms which give the Ohio Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction over any lawsuits disputing legislative maps drawn after the census every decade. These maps determine every voter’s political representation from the state house to the U.S. Congress. The referendum means that the Court will be the last line of defense against partisan gerrymandering and other attempts to restrict voters’ power and will determine whether Ohioans have accurate representation in Congress. While the Court cannot draw new maps, it has the power to order the Redistricting Commission to fix violations in the maps or to redraw the maps entirely. But this wouldn’t be the first time the Court has dictated voters’ power from the bench. In 2012, the Court handed down a decision greenlighting conservative partisan gerrymandering, in which over 250 governmental units (counties, towns, etc.) were separated across multiple new districts. And now, a decade later in 2022, a bipartisan majority of the Court struck down four maps that were drawn to disproportionately favor one party. The Ohio Supreme Court plays a critical role in ensuring every citizen has an equal voice at the ballot box. 

The Ohio Supreme Court has been critical in protecting the rights and safety of young people and students. The Court recently bolstered student safety in schools. The justices moved to ensure that only qualified administrators and staff, who have completed peace office training or have over 20 years of experience as a peace officer, may be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds while on duty. Additionally, the Court has protected juveniles in the criminal justice system. The Court upheld that a defendant’s age and age-related characteristics must be considered prior to imposing a life sentence. This decision will protect the rights of vulnerable young people within the criminal justice system. The Court is also essential in protecting the environment and ensuring every young person has access to clean air and water.  

Our courts must protect the rights of consumers, public health, and workers by ensuring corporations are held accountable for their actions. However, the Ohio Supreme Court has deeply gutted the rights of working people. In a recent decision, the Court ruled that employees must comply with drug testing even when they are forced to submit a sample directly in front of their supervisor or otherwise face termination. In other words, if an employee felt having to provide a urine sample in front of their boss was an invasion of privacy, the employee could be fired on the spot. This decision is deeply troubling for working people, especially when the Court had previously weakened a worker’s ability to file a wrongful termination suit to challenge such employment practices. And just this year, the Court—in the middle of the pandemic—left thousands of Ohioans without jobs vulnerable when they rubberstamped Governor DeWine’s departure from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Without these critical checks on governmental and corporate power, the Court has left thousands of working people defenseless to the will of their employers. 

In contrast, the Court was essential in holding Volkswagen accountable for polluting our air and attempting to circumvent air pollution standards. In a recent decision, the Court ruled that the state may pursue Volkswagen for any emissions violations from their cars. In this case, the Court acted as a necessary check on corporate power and protected the rights of all Ohioans to a healthy life and clean air. 

Ohio has traditionally elected their Supreme Court justices by non-partisan election. But 2022 will be the first year that party affiliations will be listed on the ballot for judicial candidates due to a bill passed in 2021 requiring this information. Each political party selects one candidate to run in the nonpartisan general election by partisan primary election 

Two justices are chosen in statewide general elections in even-numbered years. When Chief Justices are up for (re)election, there will be a total of 3 seats on the ballot. In each of these elections, there may be challengers to the justices running for re-election. Once elected, justices serve six-year terms. 

If a vacancy occurs in a non-election year, then the governor will appoint a justice. That justice will serve on the court until the next even-numbered general election, when they will have to be re-elected to remain on the bench.  

Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice  
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined the Ohio Supreme Court as a justice in 2003 and was re-elected in 2009. Due to Ohio’s mandatory retirement age, O’Connor is ineligible to run for re-election to her current seat. There will be an open contest in 2022 to elect her replacement.  

Legal Career

  • Prior to her judicial service, O’Connor was an attorney in private practice, handling both civil and criminal cases. O’Connor was first appointed a magistrate on the Summit County Probate Court. Then, O’Connor became a Common Pleas Court Judge where she was elected by her peers to serve as administrative judge of the court for two years.  
  • O’Connor resigned from the bench to become the Summit County prosecuting attorney. O’Connor was elected Lieutenant Governor and became Governor Bob Taft’s chief adviser on criminal justice issues. O’Connor was Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor when she was elected to the Supreme Court in 2002. She was re-elected in 2008, then elected as the Chief Justice in 2010 and 2016.   

Sharon Kennedy, Associate Justice 
Justice Robin Hudson was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2006 and was sworn in January 2007. She was re-elected in 2014 to a second eight-year term. Justice Hudson is not running for another term in 2022.  

Legal Career 

  • Kennedy began her legal career as a law clerk in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, General Division for Judge Matthew J. Crehan. Then Kennedy moved to private practice handling criminal, civil, juvenile, probate, domestic relations, and appellate matters. Concurrently, Kennedy was Disciplinary Counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 38, representing police officers during disciplinary hearings. Kennedy then served as Special Counsel to Ohio Attorney General, Betty Montgomery. Kennedy also served as a Magistrate & Warrant Officer for Butler County, presiding over eviction, small claims, and civil litigation. Then, Kennedy was a judge on the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division and served as the administrative judge of the division.  

Jennifer Brunner, Associate Justice 
Justice Jennifer Brunner was elected a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court in 2020 and began her term in January 2021. Her current term ends on January 1, 2027. 

Legal Career 

  • Brunner has public sector experience in all three branches of government. She served in many different governmental capacities including Legislative Aide and Committee Secretary for Ohio Senate, Deputy Director and Legal Counsel for Ohio Secretary of State, Member on Franklin County Board of Elections, Member on Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission (Appointed by Governor), Board Member on Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, Marriage & Family Therapist Board (Appointed by Governor), and Board Member on Central Ohio Transit Authority (Mayor’s Appointee). Most notably, Brunner served as Ohio’s first female Secretary of State. In addition, Brunner has 17 years of private practice experience when she was not serving in public office.  
  • From 2000 to 2005, Brunner served as a Franklin County Common Pleas judge, handling civil and felony criminal trials and cases where she founded its adult felony drug court known as the Treatment is Essential to Success (TIES) Program. From 2014 through 2020, Brunner served as an elected state appeals court judge on the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Franklin County, Ohio. This court reviews civil, felony and misdemeanor, probate, family law, and administrative law cases. The court also holds original jurisdiction in government-related cases.  

Pat DeWine, Associate Justice  
Justice Pat DeWine joined the Ohio Supreme Court in January 2017, following his statewide election in November 2016. His current term expires on January 1, 2023. He is also the son of current Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. 

Legal Career  

  • DeWine began his legal career with the firm Keating, Muething & Klekamp, specializing in commercial litigation and appellate work. Most notably, DeWine represented the Bush campaign in election litigation that reached the U.S. Supreme Court on the eve of the 2004 election.  
  • DeWine’s career also includes public service, serving on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. Then, DeWine was a member of the Cincinnati City Council, where he was known as a “taxpayer watchdog, successfully rooting out wasteful spending and abuse in city government.” He was a founder of the Build Cincinnati reform group that successfully passed a charter amendment to allow Cincinnati voters to directly elect the mayor.  
  • Following his public service career, DeWine was a judge on the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. From 2013 to 2017, he was a judge on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals before being elected to the Ohio Supreme Court.  

Pat Fischer, Associate Justice  
Justice Patrick Fischer joined the Ohio Supreme Court in January 2017, following his statewide election in November 2016. His current term expires on December 31, 2022. 

Legal Career   

  • Fischer began working in private practice with the firm Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL where he later became Partner. Fischer worked mostly on securities, anti-trust, class action, and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) litigation. In 2004, Fischer handled an election law dispute on behalf of President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. From 2006 to 2007, Fischer was president of the Cincinnati Bar Association. From 2012 to 2013, Fischer was president of the Ohio State Bar Association and was the first judge to serve as President. 
  • Fischer was elected to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. He remained on the court until December 2016 and his election to the Ohio Supreme Court. 

Michael P. Donnelly, Associate Justice  

Justice Michael P. Donnelly joined the Ohio Supreme Court in January 2019, following his statewide election in November 2018. His current term expires on December 31, 2024. 

Legal Career

  • Donnelly started his career as an assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor before working in private practice, representing plaintiffs and injured workers in asbestos litigation, personal injury lawsuits, and workers’ compensation claims. 
  • Then Donnelly was elected a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division serving in that position for 14 years. Donnelly was also one of five judges on Cuyahoga County’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Court, which oversees criminal cases involving defendants who have schizophrenia, schizophrenic disorder, or a developmental disability.  

Melody Stewart, Associate Justice  

Justice Melody J. Stewart was elected to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court in November 2018 and assumed office in 2019. Her current term ends on January 1, 2025. Of historical note, Justice Stewart is the first African American woman elected to the Court. 

Legal Career

  • Stewart began her legal career as an assistant law director for the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland. Stewart then transitioned to education work. She worked as a lecturer, an adjunct instructor, and an assistant dean at Cleveland-Marshall before joining the full-time faculty. Her primary teaching areas were ethics and professional responsibility, criminal law, criminal procedure, and legal research, writing, and advocacy. Stewart also taught at the University of Toledo College of Law and Ursuline College and was Director of Student Services at Case Western Reserve’s School of Law. Stewart was elected to the Ohio Court of Appeals, Eighth District in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. In 2013, she served as the court’s Administrative Judge. The Ohio State Bar Association gave her the state’s highest rating 29 out of 30 possible points.  
  • Gabbard v. Madison Local School District Board of Education (2021)- Public Safety/Education 

    The Supreme Court ruled that Ohio school teachers, administrators, and staff could not be armed with concealed weapons while on duty unless, consistent with state training requirements for armed school guards, they complete basic peace officer training or have 20 years of experience as a peace officer. 
  • State v. Patrick (2020)- Criminal Justice 

    The Ohio Supreme Court held that a trial court must consider the age of a defendant and its attendant characteristics before imposing a life sentence, even if that sentence includes eligibility for parole.  
  • Capital Care Network of Toledo v. Department of Health (2018)- Abortion 

    The Court ruled that the Ohio Department of Health’s order shutting down Toledo, Ohio’s only abortion clinic for failure to have a written transfer agreement with a hospital was legal. This decision made it harder for people in Ohio to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion.  
  • Preterm-Cleveland, Inc. v. Kasich (2018)- Abortion 

    The Court ruled that Cleveland’s Preterm clinic could not sue over abortion restrictions enacted by the legislature in 2013, which included a ban on transfer agreements between clinics and public hospitals. This decision made it harder for people in Ohio to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. 
  • Wilson v. Kasich (2012)- Democracy  

    In a 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the state apportionment board’s 2011 redrawing of legislative districts for the General Assembly. The redistricting largely favored Republicans in the state.  
  • Lunsford v. Sterilite of Ohio, LLC (2020)- Workers 

    The Court sided with employers to allow “direct observation” drug testing, which involved screeners following employees into the bathroom and watching them provide urine samples. If the employees did not consent to the drug testing, they would be fired. 
  • State ex rel. Yost v. Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (2021)- Environment 

    The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the federal Clean Air Act does not preempt Ohio from enforcing state law following Volkswagen’s admission that it secretly used illegal software to evade pollution emission rules. The decision allows the state to pursue claims on a portion of the estimated 14,000 vehicles sold or leased in the state identified in 2016. 
  • State v. Patrick (2020)- Criminal Justice 

    The Ohio Supreme Court held that a trial court must consider the age of a defendant and its attendant characteristics before imposing a life sentence, even if that sentence includes eligibility for parole.  
  • House v. Iacovelli (2020)- Workers 

    The Court made it more difficult to establish a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The majority declined to recognize the claim of an employee who was discharged after confronting her employer for underreporting her earnings to the state.  
  • In re Application of Ohio Edison Co. (2019)- Environment 

    The Court ruled that the Public Utility Commission of Ohio’s decision to bail out a nuclear and coal power company violated Ohio law. The decision invalidated illegal ratemaking that would have cost Ohio consumers over six hundred million dollars. 
  • State ex rel. Bowling v. DeWine (2021)- Workers 

    Ohio residents sued the DeWine administration after the governor announced the state would no longer be participating in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). They argued DeWine had overstepped his authority by cutting off the federal funds from getting to Ohioans, and that the extra funds would boost the state economy by $98 million. The Court sided with DeWine’s move to axe federal unemployment assistance. 
  • Check your registration status here. Not registered? You can register to vote online at olvr.ohiosos.gov.  
  • Your last day to register to vote in the November 8, 2022 General Election is October 11, 2022.  
  • Make your plan to vote. In Ohio, you can vote by mail ballot, vote in person early at your County Elections Board office, or in person at your polling place on Election Day.  
  • If you’re unable to go to the polls or just want to vote by mail ballot, you can find more information on absentee voting here.  
  • You can also vote early in-person. You can learn more about voting early in-person on your Secretary of State’s website.  
  • If you want to vote in-person on Election Day, make sure you know your polling place. Check your polling place here.  
  • Make sure you fill out your entire ballot this year! For the first time, Supreme Court seats will be moved up on the ballot under the partisan section.