COLUMBUS - Judicial candidates may solicit campaign contributions and advertise their partisan affiliations under new rules approved by the Ohio Supreme Court to take effect immediately.
The changes are aimed at bringing Ohio into compliance with last month's ruling by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that similar rules in Kentucky violated the candidates' constitutional right of free speech.
The court voted 4-1 to loosen the restrictions on partisan advertising while cautioning that candidates "should consider the effect that partisanship has on the principles of judicial independence, integrity, and impartiality."
Although Ohio judicial candidates run in partisan primary elections and openly participate in political party events, they'd been barred from identifying their political party in advertising.
The court also voted 4-1 to poke holes in its ban on judicial candidates personally soliciting contributions for their campaign committees. The changes allow a candidate to make a general request when speaking to audiences of 20 or more people and to sign solicitation letters distributed by a campaign committee for contributions to that committee.
The court opted not to lift the rest of the ban on direct solicitation by judicial candidates, reasoning that the limits are still necessary to prevent the appearance that a quid pro quo exists between contributions and the results of cases heard by courts.
In both cases, the sole dissents belonged to Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican running unopposed in the Nov. 2 election. Chief Justice Eric Brown, a Democrat, and Justice Judith Lanzinger, a Republican, also on the ballot, did not participate.
Justice Maureen O'Connor, the chief justice's GOP opponent, voted in favor of the changes. Justice Lanzinger faces a Democratic challenge from Warren-based appellate Judge Mary Jane Trapp.
The rule changes do not alter the state law that lists judicial candidates on general election ballots with no party affiliation. The Ohio Democratic Party recently sued in federal court to overturn that law as unconstitutional.