VERSAILLES — What does it take to become one of the top judges in the state?
Ohio Supreme Court Associate Justice Sharon L. Kennedy answered this question, and more, as she spoke to Versailles High School juniors Friday.
Kennedy was the guest of Versailles social studies teacher John Jackson.
“Instead of just having a lecture in my classroom, or reading a book, why not bring real-life experience to the students?” he said. “I don’t want students to listen to me and think, ‘That’s what I need to think.’ My job is to teach them ‘how’ to think.”
“By bringing Justice Kennedy in, or other members of government, this gives them firsthand experience and not just their instructor teaching them this,” Jackson added.
Kennedy, the 154th justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, said she hoped her visit would impart to students the importance of the branches of government and what role the judicial branch plays within that framework.
“I hope that they discern the separation of the co-equal branches of the government, how the tripartite system of [the federal] government, created by the founders, was really overlaid onto Ohio when we gained statehood in 1803 and how that mirror-image reflected in our constitution still rings true today,” she said.
Kennedy, a Butler County native, is in her seventh year on the Ohio Supreme Court. Before receiving her law degree from the University of Cincinnati, she first served as a police officer for the City of Hamilton. Prior to taking her seat on the Ohio Supreme Court, Kennedy served at the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, from 1999 to 2012.
As a justice, Kennedy leans conservative, believing in the strict interpretation of the law as it is written and the limited role of government.
“I think a lot of people are under the misperception that the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, give you rights. They don’t. It really prohibits the government from doing certain things to your God-given rights that are enunciated in the Declaration [of Independence],” she said.
Asked by a student what advice she would give to young women considering a law career, Kennedy told how she was encouraged by teachers and judges early in her life, despite her own doubts.
“Fear is a liar. The world is yours,” she said. “Young women, put your dream on the top of your board, write down every step you need to get there and don’t let anybody tell you anything different. Gender is no barrier. You have the power to do what you want. And fear? Moments of doubt? It’s a liar. The only person who can strip you of your dream is you.”
Asked how she avoids bias in her rulings, Kennedy said she refuses to consider the potential outcome of a case, instead applying the law as written by the General Assembly and avoiding emotion.
“What does the law say? This is what the law means, and the outcome is not something I can measure,” she said. “When I put on the robe, I’m protecting the law from my inner self.”
When asked how she wants to be remembered, Kennedy said she hoped her legacy as a justice would reflect her judicial restraint, but more importantly, that she cared about people.
“I would want my legacy to be a testament about living life to its fullest, of taking the talents that God has given me and my parents have shaped and my education has afforded me, to use them to do good for the people of the State of Ohio,” she said.