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2022 Year in Review - Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor retires after making history

Two women sit in chairs speaking to one another. Both are white, and dressed in slacks and jackets. A table with books sits between them.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor speaks to Jo Ingles during a recent interview.

The tenth Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O'Connor, is retiring but not before making history. She’s the longest serving woman, elected statewide, in Ohio history. And she’s the first woman to lead the state’s judicial branch of government.

“I don’t think, 'Oh well, I’m the first woman chief justice,' until I realize the impact it has on other people. And that is part of the responsibility that I feel in this job to demonstrate that the job can be done, not only well but extremely well, by a woman,” O'Connor said.

She said she’s proud that other female judges have been inspired by her as she rose from a local judge and local prosecutor to lieutenant governor and finally to her role at the court. In that capacity, she has changed the court system, including efforts to reform bail and create opioid courts.

“I feel for the underdog and that’s one of the things that drives me as a public servant ... to be a public servant for everybody and what the system can do and should do for everybody is very important for me. I don’t like unfairness," O'Connor explained.

That sense of fairness and adherence to the constitution was a driving force in a decision that might go down in history as her most controversial. O’Connor, a Republican, sided with three Democratic justices five times to overturn redistricting maps drawn by Republican legislative leaders. O’Connor said those maps, which favored GOP candidates, were unconstitutional. That angered some of her fellow Republicans.

“Now I understand they’ve taken my picture down in some headquarters, including the state headquarters and in others, they’ve turned it to the wall. Am I hurt? Am I bothered? No. I’ve got to say that is petty and it reflects more on them than certainly it does on me," O'Connor said.

In the end, the Republicans were able to get a different outcome from a federal court with new judicial appointees from former GOP President Trump. That court ruled the state could use the third map the Ohio Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional for the 2022 elections.

O’Connor said she’s troubled by the intervention of the federal court in this state issue, calling the way it was handled “kind of ridiculous.”

“It’s like having a fight between two kids and you’ve got an eight-year-old and a six-year-old and you say, ‘You had better settle this or the eight-year-old is going to win.’ Whoa! That’s exactly what it was, so there was no reason for them to come up with anything better than the third map, for gosh sake," O'Connor said.

Ohio's Supreme Court has a rule that bars justices from running for election to its bench after they turn 70 years old. O'Connor turned 71-years-old on August 7, 2022.

O’Connor said she is the first chief justice to actually retire from the court without losing an election or dying while in office.

After working demanding jobs all her life, she says she’s going to see what "the sweetness of doing nothing" feels like.

“I’m just going to look forward to sitting down and reading for pleasure and fly fishing which I love to do and travel. ... I’ve got six grandchildren, I’ve missed a lot of sports events, games, things they have been involved with, because of my schedule. So that’s going to change," O'Connor said

Beyond that, O’Connor said she plans to be of service in some way. She didn’t specify exactly how but during her last state of the judiciary speech, she said she plans to play some kind of role in promoting another constitutional amendment effort to fight gerrymandering.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.