Kasich, a Republican, announced Thursday that he's picked 10th District Court of Appeals Judge Judith L. French from a field of 13 contenders vying to serve the final two years of the term of Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who retires at year's end.
"She's going to be a great judge and a great addition," Kasich said. "I also think she'll be a strong candidate when the time comes for her to run. She's got a lot of fire in her."
French, 50, has served on the appellate court since 2004. Before that, she served as chief legal counsel to Gov. Bob Taft and chief counsel and assistant attorney general under Attorney General Betty Montgomery. She received her bachelor's, master's and law degrees from The Ohio State University.
In 2002, French defended the Ohio law establishing the landmark Cleveland school voucher program before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing its constitutionality over objections that giving public school money to students from religiously affiliated private schools violated the First Amendment. The court ruled 5-4 in the state's favor.
Kasich said when he saw the list of three finalists, and one was a woman, he was thrilled.
"At the end of the day, as I thought about who would be best, I'm really happy that we have such a qualified woman," he said. "I like that very, very much as the father of twin girls — I hope somebody will remember that when my daughters come up for appointment to something — but this is somebody who's very, very smart."
Criticized early in his administration for appointing an all-white, all-male Cabinet, Kasich has since diversified. On Thursday, he praised the women on his staff, including Chief of Staff Beth Hansen, and said he sees women as a good fit for the judiciary because they have a strong moral compass.
"I think that women a lot of times are the leaders in fighting for principle," he said.
French said she never experienced any discrimination as she pursued her law career — and she feels now, as she enters the court alongside other respected women, that the glass ceiling seems to have been broken.
"There are no barriers," she said.
French's ties to Ohio's Mahoning Valley — she's a native of Sebring, outside Youngstown — were another factor in Kasich's decision, he said.
He cited "Mahoning values" — "blue collar, fear of God, common sense, love your neighbor, come to help whenever the time was necessary — those kinds of values are the values to me that are so important to me as the bedrock of our country and our state."
French assured Kasich, and all Ohioans, she would do her best not to let them down.
She said she would "move justly and fairly to interpret Ohio law strictly, to always remember that my role as a judge is limited and to serve all of Ohio — the Mahoning Valley, central Ohio, all of Ohio — and give it my very best."
French will be one of three new faces after two incumbent justices — Democrat Yvette McGee Brown and Republican Robert Cupp — lost their November re-election bids. Neither McGee Brown nor Cupp was among the 13 judges and lawyers who applied to fill Lundberg Stratton's opening.
The 59-year-old Stratton, who spent 16 years on the court, said in May that she had decided to "pursue a different course" helping disabled veterans caught up in the criminal justice system. She said she plans to take on a state and national role directing troubled veterans to benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, perhaps as a consultant.
Besides French, the other three women on the court are Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, veteran Justice Judith Lanzinger and incoming Justice Sharon Kennedy, who beat McGee Brown this fall. Kennedy and Democrat Bill O'Neill, who ousted Justice Robert Cupp, will join French as the new members of the court.
In picking French, Kasich passed by Ohio State Bar Association president Patrick Fischer, a Cincinnati appellate judge, and Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Pat DeWine, the son of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.