Control over the Ohio Supreme Court is on the ballot in 2020

By: - December 19, 2019 1:00 am

Pictured is the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center where the Ohio Supreme Court meets. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons..

There will not be any drama on primary election night for the two Ohio Supreme Court seats.

The General Election in November 2020, though, should have plenty. 

Incumbent Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judith French, both Republicans, are running for reelection. Two Democratic candidates have filed to run against them: John O’Donnell against Kennedy, and Jennifer Brunner against French.

With the uncontested primaries merely an afterthought, the four candidates will spend the next 11 months preparing for a high-profile election with a presidential race and a slate of congressional seats also on the ballot.

At stake is the political make-up of the entire court. Republicans currently have a 5-2 majority, but if O’Donnell and Brunner sweep the two races, that would give Democrats a narrow 4-3 edge.

French vs. Brunner 

French was first appointed to the court in 2012 to serve out an unexpired term, then won election to a full term in 2014 over O’Donnell. French previously served on Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals, which coincidentally is where Brunner currently serves as an appellate judge. 

“The people of Ohio need a conservative judge committed to applying the law fairly and making just decisions in tough cases,” French stated in announcing her campaign.

Bunner previously served as Ohio Secretary of State from 2007 to 2011 under Gov. Ted Strickland and spent four years as a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge from 2001 to 2005.

“My passion is fairness and protecting the rule of law. People have certain guaranteed rights in our democratic republic,” Brunner states on her website. “As Secretary of State I protected their voting rights. As an Ohio Supreme Court justice I will protect all of their rights. There is not a Republican or Democratic way to fairness.”

Kennedy vs. O’Donnell

Kennedy was first elected to the court in 2012 to serve out an unexpired term. She earned reelection to a full term in 2014 winning nearly three-fourths of the statewide vote. In a statement announcing her reelection effort, Kennedy said her decades of experience as an attorney and Butler County judge make her qualified for another six-year term. 

She will face O’Donnell, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge who is hoping his third Supreme Court bid will be the charm. He was the losing Democratic candidate for justice in 2014 and 2016. The latter effort came up just short against Republican Patrick Fischer, who won by less than 1 percent of the vote. 

Bill DeMora, O’Donnell’s campaign manager, said Wednesday they feel confident that O’Donnell can make up that narrow difference with 2020 shaping up to be a high turnout year for Democrats.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.