Seems reasonable. Twice (in 1991 and 1999), the Ohio Supreme Court struck down business and insurance company- sponsored changes to that law that would have made it more difficult for injured workers to bring their case. But today, in a decision written by Ohio Justice Robert Cupp, the Court decided to ignore this precedent and uphold virtually the same law, passed in 2005. Now, knowingly putting a worker in harm’s way will not expose an employer to liability. One Justice dissented, saying the law “purports to grant employees the right to bring intentional-tort actions against their employers, but in reality defines the cause of action into oblivion.”
What a difference a corporate-funded judicial election campaign makes! Here’s a little Ohio Supreme Court history.
Almost immediately after handing down a 1999 decision striking down as unconstitutional Ohio’s 1996 broad and brutal “tort reform” law, an insurance-industry front-group called “Americans for Job Security” began a viscous media campaign attacking Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick. She was one of two justices up for re-election in 2000. (Notably, while the “tort reform” case was pending before the Supreme Court, another corporate front group, Ohio Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, ran an outrageous media campaign directed at influencing the court to try to get the law upheld.) (See more background here.)
During the 2000 campaign, the Chamber of Commerce, through its front group “Citizens for a Strong Ohio,” flooded the airwaves with attack ads against Justice Resnick. The Chamber argued that these were “issue ads” allowing it to conceal its corporate contributors. But the Ohio Elections Commission disagreed, subpoenaing the group in the course of an investigation as to whether the Chamber used illegal corporate money and seeking to find out who financed these attack ads against Justice Resnick. Anyway, the good voters of Ohio saw through all of this and reelected Resnick.
But the Chamber and its corporate allies continued trying to remake the court in their image, and the money flowed.
In 2004, Citizens for a Strong Ohio said it raised close to $3 million to support GOP candidates for judgeships in Ohio. Of the $3 million, the Chamber’s national Institute for Legal Reform contributed $1 million; the American Insurance Association, $375,000; Nationwide Insurance, $200,000; and Procter & Gamble, $160,000. (More background here.) In that year, the money worked. Republicans won four Ohio Supreme Court races in 2004, giving them six of seven seats on the state Supreme Court. The legislature then repassed their unconstitutional “tort reform” package, and in 2007, the Court ignored their own precedent and upheld the law.
In the meantime, in 2006, Justice Resnick retired and the corporate-backed candidate to take her place was Justice Robert Cupp, author of today’s decision. In October 2006, the independent Brennan Center reported, “This past week a new political action committee, Partnership for Ohio’s Future, spent $297,615 on television advertising supporting two Supreme Court candidates, Republican Judge Robert Cupp and incumbent Justice Terry O’Donnell. Since 2000, Ohio has consistently had the most television advertising in Supreme Court elections of any state nationwide.” Public Citizen listed the major funders of this “Partnership” – mostly insurance companies and banks, with some global corporations thrown in.
The latest U.S. Supreme Court Justice to denounce this kind of corporate money in judicial election campaigns is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She joins former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and ironically, once upon a time, Justice Kennedy who wrote the decision unleashing corporate spending in judicial elections.
Justice Ginsburg would like to see states change their laws. Perhaps Ohio might be a good place to start?