By Marc Kovac
Senate Bill 5, Issue 2 on the November ballot, is getting most of the public attention, but there are two other statewide issues to be decided by voters next month.
The one probably receiving the least amount of public discourse appears first, Issue 1, which deals with the age at which judges would be allowed to take the bench.
Issue 2 and Issue 3, which deals with federal health- care mandates, were placed on the ballot as a result of citizen referendum efforts, with backers collecting enough signatures on petitions to qualify to place them before voters.
Issue 1, however, was placed on the ballot by lawmakers, after bipartisan votes in the Ohio House and Senate.
The issue would change the Ohio Constitution to raise the age limit at which a person could be elected or appointed to the bench from 70 to 75.
The amendment also would eliminate lawmakers’ ability to create courts of conciliation and remove the governor’s authority to appoint members to a Supreme Court commission. The latter has not been done since 1883, according to the state’s Legislative Service Commission.
Proponents say the age change is needed because the current limitation has been in place for decades, and life expectancies have increased since then.
“Currently, judges cannot run for office after they turn 70,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor in a video supporting Issue 1. “This arbitrary age limit eliminates some of our most experienced judges from serving Ohio and administering justice fairly and impartially.”
She added, “No other elected office has any age limit whatsoever.”
The Ohio State Bar Association also has endorsed the Issue 1. In a released statement, the group’s president, Carol Seubert Marx, said, “The times have changed, life expectancy has changed and expectations of life in the work force have changed. Extending the age limit to 75 would allow for more experienced judges to stay on the bench and benefit the judiciary.”
She added, “So what happens if Issue 1 fails? Up to 10 percent of Ohio’s judges could be forced to retire in the next six years resulting in the loss of tremendous judicial experience in Ohio’s courtrooms.”
But opponents question the value of extending the age limit.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association is urging a “no” vote on the issue, saying that the wording of it could allow judges to serve until they are 82 or older.
“While some senior judges are valued and effective, it is not the case with all,” said John Murphy, executive director of the prosecutors association, in a released statement. “The potential for limits to an elderly judge’s schedule and capacity is not good for an active courtroom.”
The Democratic Party, which also opposes Issue 1, questioned the politics behind the move.
According to a released statement from the group’s executive committee, “This extension would increase the length of service for individuals already entrenched on the bench. Moreover, State Issue 1 is likely to perpetuate a 6-to-1 Republican imbalance on the Ohio Supreme Court and similar imbalances on lower courts.”