Candidates’ political philosophies influence role of judiciary in Ohio

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page B1

COLUMBUS — Both candidates in the race for chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court say it’s easy to tell the differences between their judicial philosophies.

They just don’t agree on how best to spin them.

Thomas Moyer, the incumbent Republican, says he shows restraint on the bench, willing to follow the will of the General Assembly in most cases, and not using the immense power of the court too often.

Gary Tyack, the Democratic challenger, says that means his opponent doesn’t do enough to fight for the little guy.

Mr. Moyer, of Bexley, first elected chief justice in 1986, is seeking a third term. Mr. Tyack, who lives in Columbus, is a judge on the 10th District Court of Appeals, based in the capital.

The two disagree on how active the court should be in forming or evaluating state policy.

“I think he sees the role as simply writing the law the way the judge thinks it should be written,” Mr. Moyer said. “The problem is, where does it stop?”

The chief justice said that, except in very rare cases, he opposes overturning laws passed by the General Assembly because “they’re an expression of public will.”

The most obvious example of Mr. Moyer’s judicial philosophy is his dissent last year in DeRolph v. Ohio, the case that declared the state’s school-fund system unconstitutional and ordered sweeping changes.

The chief justice, on the losing end of a 4-3 decision, wrote that the court had no business ordering such a complete overhaul.

“As an application of my philosophy, I don’t believe I’ve written anything better,” Mr. Moyer said. “The [school-fund] system is far from perfect, but it was an expression of judicial restraint.”

Mr. Tyack, in contrast, has said Mr. Moyer’s dissent showed a lack of leadership on an issue critical to the state’s future.

He said that Mr. Moyer’s judicial conservatism has led him to side too often with big business. According to Ohio Chamber of Commerce ratings, Mr. Moyer sides with business 77 per cent of the time in workers’ compensation cases, the highest ratio on the court. He also sides with insurance companies 79 per cent of the time.

“I think, `What does this do to the person who has been injured or hurt,”‘ Mr. Tyack said. “Justice Moyer thinks, `How does this im pact a large group, an insurance company, or a big business?”‘

The challenger is also making an issue of the significant tension the court has seen in the 1990s, as its two dominant personalities – Mr. Moyer and Justice Andy Douglas of Toledo – have feuded on a variety of issues.

The turmoil peaked earlier this year, when Mr. Douglas blamed the heart attack he suffered on the stress Mr. Moyer put him under.

“People in Toledo know just how bad the interpersonal relations have been,” Mr. Tyack said. “[Mr. Moyer] has engaged in a whole series of negative comments about Justice Douglas. They each complain about each other.”

But Mr. Moyer, while acknowledging the “strong personal differences,” said the battles do not affect the court’s work.

“I cannot think of a time when someone voted on a case because of personal feelings about a justice,” Mr. Moyer said.

“Six of us, I know, are very committed to a collegial atmosphere. I cannot speak for Justice Douglas on that issue.”