As this blog has reported, in July 2010, the Sixth Circuit struck as unconstitutional two Kentucky regulations governing judicial elections. In Carey v. Wolnitzek (6th Cir., Case Nos. 08-6468 & 08-6538, July 13, 2010) (PDF) the Court struck a regulation prohibiting judicial candidates from identifying their political party affiliation and also a different regulation prohibiting such candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds. Then, as this blog also reported, in early August, the Supreme Court of Ohio reacted to Carey by modifying Ohio’s regulations governing judicial candidates. Reverberations from Carey continue to be felt.
On August 19, 2010, Chief Judge Dlott of the Southern District of Ohio denied an effort to obtain injunctive relief (PDF) regarding judicial election rules by the Ohio Democratic Party, a statewide labor organization and three judicial candidates. In Ohio Council 8 AFSCME v. Brunner (S.D. Ohio, Case No. 1:10-cv-504, Aug. 19, 2010), the Democratic Party and its co-plaintiffs sought to have the district court enjoin enforcement of Ohio law and regulations prohibiting the printing of party identifiers on nonpartisan general election ballots and prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting or receiving campaign contributions. Dissatisfied by the Supreme Court of Ohio’s effort to retool the regulations following Carey, the plaintiffs asked the district court to expand the Sixth Circuit’s ruling by extending it to these two prohibitions, as well.
Respecting the nonpartisan ballot, the district court found that Carey was “not controlling” because Carey “concerned Kentucky’s affiliation and solicitation clauses, not a provision of the state’s election law requiring nonpartisan general judicial election ballots.” And on that particular issue, the district court found that the plaintiffs failed to “put forth evidence to demonstrate that prohibiting a political party designation next to judicial candidates’ names on the general election ballot constitutes a ‘severe’ restriction on Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.” With respect to the ban on personal solicitation and receipt of campaign funds, the district court found Carey directly on point, but the court also took notice of the Supreme Court of Ohio’s subsequent revision to the state’s judicial election regulations. Reviewing the retooled campaign contribution rule in Ohio, the district court determined that the ability of judicial candidates under the revised rule to solicit contributions in groups of 20 or more individuals and also by way of personally signed letters was sufficient to survive under Carey, at least for purposes of the injunction ruling.
Based on the flurry of activity following Carey, it seems likely that analysis of and challenges to Ohio’s regulations governing judicial elections are not likely to disappear soon.