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Effort To Remove Justice O’Neill Examined

Ohio Supreme Court
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill";

Some political analysts think one Republican lawmaker’s plan to remove the only Democratic Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court could backfire. 

Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.


Republican Representative Niraj Antani wants the legislature to use a little known, never used provision in Ohio law to kick Democratic Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill off the bench. O’Neill made comments about issues such as legalizing marijuana, tax incentives for solar power, and high-speed passenger rail during his announcement that he intends to run for Governor next year. Some question whether O’Neill has violated judicial canons with that. Legislative leaders have not jumped in to back the effort to remove O’Neill. And David Cohen, political science professor at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron says there’s good reason for them to stay on the sidelines.

“I don’t know if this is grandstanding or if this is just not very well thought through but I think it actually could backfire.”

Since Republican governor John Kasich would pick O'Neill’s replacement, Cohen says attempts to remove O’Neill could motivate Democrats in the 2018 election. And he said that raises questions about whether it could hurt Republicans.

“If this were a bipartisan effort, that would certainly remove any questions but it seems like an overly partisan attempt to shape the composition of the court which is already heavily dominated by Republicans.”

University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor David Niven agrees Republicans could look heavy handed and overly political if they proceed.

“The Republican motivation here has to be questioned. They already have a super majority on the court and of course they have a super majority in the legislature so to draw a line in the sand over this one justice does seem to be a little bit of a distraction from their larger priorities and it certainly could introduce a certain amount of the perception that they are trying to dominate the system beyond what is legitimate.”

Niven says this effort, if pursued, could end up helping O’Neill in the end.

“You know he is not a well-known figure although he is the only Democrat elected statewide. In state politics right now, he’s actually a rather anonymous figure so to fight him and try to ouster him would be sort of the best advertisement for his existence that he’s ever had. On the other hand, of course, this is not somebody who’s a very skilled and accomplished campaigner so to give him all of this attention doesn’t necessarily mean he’d know what to do with it.”

At this point, it doesn’t appear there is an orchestrated effort to remove O’Neill. He says he’ll resign in February if he decides to file paperwork and formally launch a campaign for Governor. And in between now and then, he says he will recuse himself from new cases coming before the court. O’Neill will be 70 next year and can't run for re-election to the Court because of age limits. His term expires at the end of 2018.

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