COLUMBUS — Ohio is on sound constitutional ground in placing judicial candidates on general election ballots without party labels, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati dealt a blow to the Ohio Democratic Party and labor organizations that sought to do away with the state’s system of having judicial candidates run with their party affiliation in the primary election, but without it in the general election.
“While the plaintiffs argue that Ohio’s electoral system burdens their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the burden is minimal and is outweighed by Ohio’s interest in minimizing partisanship in judicial elections,” wrote Judge John M. Rogers on behalf of a panel of two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one Democratic appointee.
The ruling upheld a lower-court ruling that dismissed the Democratic lawsuit.
“As they campaign for the general election, judicial primary winners may continue to identify with their political parties, and political parties may campaign and advertise on candidates’ behalf,” Judge Rogers wrote. “Political parties may even communicate with voters outside of polling places on the day of the general election, and distribute sample ballots identifying their preferred candidates, which voters may take with them into the voting booth.”
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor was pleased by the ruling.
“It sustains the philosophy that I think is part and parcel of our structure, which is nonpartisan elections in the general election,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 when Chris Redfern chaired the state Democratic Party.
“We’re still reviewing the opinion in this case and weighing our legal options on this issue,” party spokesman Kirstin Alvanitakis said.
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