2013 marks 45 years since Ohio last enacted comprehensive reforms in the judicial system with the passage of the 1968 Modern Courts Amendment.
This anniversary also happens to fall in the year when Ohio is already engaged in a process of reevaluating the foundations of our system of government, as the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission meets to systematically examine our state’s governing document and discuss potential improvements.
From the perspective of the Ohio judiciary, 2013 is an opportunity for us to come together to address an issue of critical importance that was set aside in that historic reform package 45 years ago but has continued to generate discussion and controversy ever since. It is time for Ohio to address the issue of judicial selection.
Ohio has a long tradition of leading the way when it comes to reforms in the judicial system. We were among the very first states to adopt judicial elections. We were among the first to do away with partisan general elections, and still are the only state to at the same time retain partisan judicial primaries. We were the first state to consider – and reject – the Missouri Plan of appointments followed by retention elections. Forty-five years ago, Ohio was once again on the leading edge when the organized bar, the judges’ associations, legislators and the governor all came together behind the 1968 Modern Courts Amendment. On May 7, 1968, the voters of Ohio passed the Modern Courts Amendment by an overwhelming margin, 62 percent to 37 percent, with the ballot initiative passing in 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties. It was the first major revision of Article IV of the Ohio Constitution governing the judicial branch since the Constitution of 1851. The amendment made a number of changes to the structure of the Ohio judicial system, most notably establishing the Ohio Supreme Court’s authority of superintendence over the state judicial system. As a political compromise that probably saved the whole package, the General Assembly wisely removed a provision of the amendment before sending it to Ohio voters that would have abolished judicial elections in Ohio. But that did not end the debate over judicial elections, and we have debated the topic ever since.
I believe now is the time to revisit this topic once and for all, not to do away with judicial elections, which voters made clear they want, but to strengthen them. I hope you will join me in having this conversation.
Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court