A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on July 28, 2010, challenging Ohio judicial election laws. Targeted in the case was Ohio’s system of selecting judicial candidates through elections in a partisan political primary but then requiring the primary winners to appear without party labels on the general election ballot. Also challenged in the case were the Judicial Code of Conduct rules which prohibit judicial candidates from advertising his/her party affiliation after the primary and prohibits a judicial candidate from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions. Identical Kentucky rules were held unconstitutional on July 13, 2010 in Carey v. Wolnitzek, 2010 WL 2771866 (6th Cir July 14, 2010).
After hearing arguments from all parties, U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott rejected the First Amendment challenge to Ohio Judicial Election Laws. Plaintiffs’ attorney Al Gerhardstein was disappointed with the ruling but noted that the lawsuit did result in reforms,
“The day before the hearing the Ohio Supreme Court repealed the rule that prohibited a candidate for judicial office from advertising her political party affiliation. On that same day the Ohio Supreme Court also modified the rule restricting campaign fundraising. Those reforms show how the case has had a positive impact on free speech.”
Left intact by Judge Dlott is Ohio’s system of selecting judicial candidates through elections in a partisan political primary but then requiring the primary winners to appear without party labels on the general election ballot. The plaintiffs wanted to force the State to list the party labels of the primary winners on the general election ballot. Also approved was the amended judicial rule on campaign fundraising. Gerhardstein stated that Judge Dlott’s ruling is being studied and a decision on appealing will be made soon.
Relevant pleadings and the decision by Judge Dlott can be viewed here.