Judicial candidates in Ohio can disclose party affiliation, court says

They shouldn’t make a big deal out of their political ties, however.

That’s the essence of a rule change announced Wednesday, Aug. 11, by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The high court also established two exceptions to a rule barring judicial candidates from personally soliciting or receiving campaign contributions.

The changes were made in response to a decision last month by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down similar prohibitions in Kentucky, a court press release said.

The Ohio Democratic Party is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the Ohio prohibitions, and state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said the changes announced by the court don’t make sense and the lawsuit won’t be withdrawn.

“What do they expect, that candidates whisper their parties to would-be voters?” Redfern said.

In the comment section on the party ID rule change, the justices urged candidates to minimize references to party identification in campaign materials. “A judicial candidate should consider the effect that partisanship has on the principles of judicial independence, integrity and impartiality,” the comments said.

On fundraising, judicial candidates now will be able to:

• Make a general request for campaign contributions when speaking to an audience of 20 or more individuals.

• Sign letters soliciting campaign contributions if the letters are for distribution by the candidate’s campaign committee and the letters direct contributions to the campaign committee, not the candidate.

In Ohio, judicial candidates are nominated in partisan primaries but run on the general election ballot without party identification. The rule change doesn’t address putting party ID on the general election ballot.

The party ID change was approved 5-0, with Chief Justice Eric Brown, the court’s only Democrat, and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger abstaining. Both are on the Nov. 2 ballot. Justice Maureen O’Connor, also facing Brown in November, voted in favor.

They also abstained on the 4-1 vote for changes to the soliciting campaign funds rule. Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican running unopposed for re-election, voted “no.”

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