Thursday, May 10, 2001

Candidates relish spot on high court

Bush proposes Justice Cook for seat on appellate panel

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — It may be months before state Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook moves to a federal court, but Ohio Republicans already have people hungry for her job.

        President Bush on Wednesday nominated Justice Cook and former state solicitor Jeffrey Sutton to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

        Justice Cook's departure, whenever it happens, will give Gov. Bob Taft his first chance to appoint someone to the high court. While he cannot shift a 4-3 court majority that's handed Republicans several stinging defeats, the appointee is almost guaranteed to reflect the party agenda.

        That's why Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor and Republican Cuyahoga County Appellate Judge Terrence O'Donnell are tops on a short list to replace Justice Cook.

        “I've indicated a lot of interest with a lot of folks,” said Judge O'Donnell, who lost a bid to unseat Democrat Justice Alice Robie Resnick in November. “I'd be honored if the governor would consider me.”

        Ms. O'Connor, a former Summit County judge and prosecutor, would not comment. An aide confirmed she and Ohio GOP chairman Bob Bennett have talked about a possible Supreme Court appointment.

        Mr. Taft called Ms. O'Connor and Judge O'Donnell “well qualified” for the state's highest court.

        “It's really very early to talk about that,” Mr. Taft said. “We will obviously be inviting all candidates to come forward.”

        Though the governor would not speculate on who he'd appoint, he did say he expects Justice Cook to stay on the high court throughout the long Senate confirmation process. Mr. Taft thinks Justice Cook will take part in the Supreme Court's review of a $1.4 billion school-funding reform plan this summer.

        The high court declared the education funding formula unconstitutional in May, because it forces schools to rely on local property taxes to make up the bulk of their budgets. The 4-3 decision gave the General Assembly a June 15 deadline to fix things.

        “I think (Justice Cook) will be on the high court for a substantial amount of time,” Mr. Taft said, referring to a naturally long Senate confirmation process.

        Democratic senators could try to extend or block that process. That would be payback for Republican senators' refusal to consider and accept many of former President Bill Clinton's judicial appointees. Though Mr. Taft will campaign for Justice Cook's appointment, Ohio Democrats and their allied interest groups are likely to fight it. Richard Mason, director of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, said he doesn't relish the thought of Justice Cook becoming a federal judge.

        “She would add to what we perceive as an already conservative federal bench,” Mr. Mason said. “She too often chooses to side with corporate interests.”

        Justice Cook has said a judge's job is to interpret the law, not make new ones. That description was intended to set Justice Cook apart from the high court's more activist-minded majority.

Vacancies weigh on appeals judges
- Candidates relish spot on high court

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