Ordering the Courts: Right Wing Attacks on Judicial Independence in 2000

Ohio

A spate of recent state Supreme Court rulings angered many Ohio conservatives, who mobilized to defeat the author of several of these decisions in November’s election.

Justice Alice Robie Resnick was attacked by several conservative groups upset by the court’s rulings in two high profile cases: one found Ohio’s system of funding public schools unconstitutional and the other struck down Republican-supported laws designed to limit court-ordered damages in civil cases. Because of the latter decision, Resnick became a target of numerous pro-business interest groups, including Citizens for a Strong Ohio (an offshoot of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce), Ohioans for Fair and Independent Judges, Americans for Job Security, as well as both the Ohio and Michigan Chambers of Commerce. All ran ads attacking Resnick’s decision and urging her defeat, with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce claiming that she was part of a court majority that “has stymied the economy in 69 percent of the decisions issued during the last decade.”17

Citizens for a Strong Ohio spent an estimated $3 million on a series of anti-Resnick ads, including one that accused her of “reversing herself” at the request of labor unions, and another that claimed she ruled in favor of trial lawyers who contributed to her campaign nearly 70 percent of the time.18 Another ad showed a blindfolded lady justice holding scales filled with money and stated that Resnick had received $750,000 from trial lawyers, before asking “Is justice for sale in Ohio?”19 The data supporting these accusations was criticized as “junk research” by Resnick’s supporters, who pointed out that she received far less from trial lawyers than was alleged and had the lowest correlation between decisions and campaign contributions of all members of the Ohio Supreme Court.20

The Chamber of Commerce also hired consultants who had worked to elect business-friendly judges in Texas, Louisiana and Michigan to help with the campaign against Resnick. Strangely, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce ran anti-Resnick ads that encouraged Ohio businesses to relocate to Michigan because the Ohio Supreme Court “has rejected reasonable legal reform” and is engaged in “judicial activism.”21 It is estimated that interest groups spent more than $5 million on this “nonpartisan” race.

The court and Resnick also came under attack for a decision striking down the state’s system of funding public schools. State GOP Chairman Robert T. Bennett launched a Defeat Alice Resnick Tax Hike (DARTH) campaign, decrying the decision and claiming it would lead to higher taxes. The right-wing Buckeye Institute called the decision “judicial tyranny” while an opinion piece in The Columbus Dispatch by law and history professor David Mayer called for the defeat of Resnick, as well as the impeachment of the court’s “activist majority.”22

Despite the onslaught of opposition and attack ads, Resnick retained her seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.

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