SCIOTO — Part of her campaign trail throughout the state, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy spoke with prospective voters Friday at the Scioto County Republican Party headquarters.
The Butler County Republican, who described herself as a “conservative with a very liberal last name,” is running against the Democratic Judge John O’Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas.
Although endorsed by the Scioto County Republicans, Kennedy made an appeal to all voters regardless of party.
“I don’t represent a party,” said Kennedy, who received the highest amount votes of all four Supreme Court candidates in the April primary. “I don’t push a party platform… so you have to know I am the person that you want to vote for.”
In her pitch, Kennedy focused on three primary reasons to reelect her to a second six-year term to the high court, emphasizing her experience, judicial philosophy and service outside the courtroom.
A first-generation college student of the University of Cincinnati, Kennedy thought there were limits to her future until she entered law enforcement, where she began first as a police officer in the Hamilton Police Department in 1985.
“I fell in love with the law and it gave me a pathway to so many great opportunities,” said Kennedy in-front of a crowd of approximately 40 people. “Law enforcement became the great equalizer in my life.”
She would return to the university four years later, graduating with a juris doctor degree in 1991 and served in varying courtrooms in Butler County throughout the ’90s.
Her philosophy is one of judicial restraint, one Kennedy said is more closely aligned with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett. She believes these judges should conduct themselves in this way since the Constitution demands for checks and balances among the government’s three branches.
“We want judges just to be judges,” said Kennedy, emphasizing the need for a truly neutral rule of law. “We want our judges to uphold the law, not rewrite it or legislate from the bench.”
In the Ohio Supreme Court, Kennedy said justices respond to what legislation is passed by the General Assembly. Their responsibility is to determine its legal merits, not to create law in accordance with what the constitution asks of the legislative branch. She said attempts to do otherwise is an overreach.
“If a judge acts beyond their limited role in government, what have we done?,” asked Kennedy of the audience. “You lose your voice and we are weakening the Republic.”
Throughout her time in private practice and her eight years on the high court, Kennedy has placed focus on issues in the Juvenile Court, the assistance of past offenders, and the implementation of veteran treatment courts.
Keeping children out of the Ohio Department of Youth Services was a priority for Kennedy through her partnership with Juvenile Court. One offense could lead to a lifetime in the system, so Kennedy worked with clients to prevent repeat offenders by identifying their shortcomings.
“When you see the person standing there, you need to do something more,” said Kennedy, adding that she sees clients as people and not as numbers.
In a time where some are calling for a change in the legal system, its critics saying that enforcement and punishment is more severe for minorities, Kennedy says conversations need to take place regarding implicit bias in the courtroom.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Ohio’s incarceration rates differ vastly between the white population and the black and Hispanic populations. In 2010, 422 per 100,000 white people were incarcerated but 2,336 per 100,000 African Americans and 1,072 per 100,000 Hispanics were incarcerated.
To fight this, Kennedy supports a data collection pilot project, where six studies will be conducted- two in rural areas, two in suburban areas, and two in major urban areas- determining typical sentencing by race and ethnicity.
With the implementation of this project uncertain, Kennedy said judges can take steps right now to address this issue.
“I think judges, trial court judges can literally police themselves,” she said. “They have the ability with their files, they know their history, they don’t have to wait for the General Assembly to start charting what they’ve done.”
Reach Patrick Keck at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931, or by email at email@example.com.
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