Gavel Grab

Michigan Nominees for Supreme Court Are Chosen

Both political parties have nominated their candidates for three seats on the Michigan Supreme Court, kicking off the general election season. One Democratic nominee saw controversy over his endorsement by Right to Life of Michigan in 1996.

Court of Appeals Judge William Murphy was nominated by the state Democrats on Saturday, amid controversy. On Sunday, there was a successful motion to reconsider his nomination, then he prevailed again on a floor vote, according to a MLive.com article.

On Saturday, Judge Murphy said after his nomination, according to another MLive.com article, “Anyone who becomes a judge, you come with your personal background and beliefs.” He added, “But once I put on the robe, my personal or religious beliefs do not control. What controls is the law. I am, have been, and will be a rule of law judge.”

The Democrats also nominated Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas and Detroit attorney Richard Bernstein. Republicans nominated incumbent Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra and Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Robert Redford. The candidates for Supreme Court will appear on a non-partisan section of the ballot.

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Will MI Party Convention See Sparks Over Judge Nomination?

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004Will there be political sparks when Michigan Democrats hold a convention this weekend to nominate state Supreme Court candidates, among others? A Detroit News article suggests that possibility.

The “apparent anti-abortion position” of Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy, who wants to serve on the Supreme Court, has generated opposition in Democrats’ pro-abortion rights circles, the newspaper said.

Judge Murphy told the Detroit News about abortion,“I don’t go about expressing my views on this issue or others.” He said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me or any other judge to commit to a position on any issue.” In an unsuccessful bid for the high court in 1996, he was endorsed by  Right to Life of Michigan. Read more

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Two Michigan Justices Each Raise $500K

According to an article by the Associated Press published on 9 and 10 News’ website, two incumbents on the Michigan Supreme Court have each raised approximately $500,000 for their respective upcoming November elections.

One of the justices, David Viviano, is running to serve out the remaining two years of Diane Hathaway’s term after she resigned during an investigation for criminal mortgage fraud.

The other, Brian Zahra, is seeking a full eight-year term.

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Opinion: Cohesion of Michigan Supreme Court

Justices Robert P. Young Jr. and Bridget McCormack published an op-ed on The Detroit News summarizing the Michigan Supreme Court’s achievements of the past year.

The piece emphasizes the court’s unity rule, which consists of nearly 40 percent of their opinions. They note that dissents were not divided along the party lines and therefore, the court is governed by the law instead of politics.

The two justices also provide statistics that show high satisfaction of the public who used the court service. Furthermore, they point out its success in reducing costs and improving efficiency for both the courts and related government agencies.

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Amid U.S. Court Rulings, MI Top Judge Mum on Marriage Issue

justiceyoungWhile federal judges have recently issued rulings related to a Michigan ban on marriage for same-sex couples, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. is staying mum on the topic in the event a case comes before his court.

“I’m a spectator just like everyone else,” he told the Grand Rapids Press editorial board, according to an MLive.com article.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down a voter-approved ban on marriages in Michigan for same-sex couples, saying it was unconstitutional. This week, a panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Judge Friedman’s order for now, according to the Los Angeles Times. Several hundred marriage licenses for same-sex couples were issued in the interim. Read more

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Two Incumbent Justices Seek Election in Michigan

9532468-largeTwo sitting justices on the Michigan Supreme Court, Brian Zahra and David Viviano, have announced they will stand for election in November.

Both justices initially were appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Justice Zahra was appointed in 2011 and was elected in 2012 to complete an unexpired term, and he will seek an eight-year term in November. Justice Viviano was appointed in 2013, upon the stepping down of Justice Diane Hathaway, who was convicted of bank fraud; he will seek to serve for the final two years of her unexpired term, according to the Macomb Daily.

A third seat will be up for grabs in November. Justice Michael Cavanagh will not be permitted to seek re-election because he is more than 70 years old. He is one of two members of the seven-member court who were nominated by Democrats, the Detroit News reported.

Michigan had the most expensive supreme court contest in the nation in the 2011-2012 election cycle, according to an analysis by Justice at Stake and two partner organizations. 

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Michigan Seeks Interpreters to Improve Access to Justice

Michigan Supreme Court justice Bridget Mary McCormack wrote a commentary for the Detroit News discussing the need for interpreters to ensure consistent and meaningful access to the courts for all Michiganders.  The piece highlights a new rule that requires all courts to provide interpreters.  This rule was covered in Gavel Grab briefs, here.

Justice McCormack details the requirements affecting individuals who wish to become court interpreters.
Interpreters must speak English and pass an oral proficiency exam for another language.  Oral proficiency exams include Arabic, Cantonese, French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Laotian, Polish, Portuguese and Russian among others.  She goes on to emphasize the importance of the interpreter role, as one that can assist with court proceedings by aiding those who need to understand and be understood.

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Law Dean Laments New Anti-Disclosure Law in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent signing into law of a measure that exempts “issue ads” from disclosure has the effect of making it easier for special interests to influence government and making it harder “for the rest of us,” an election law expert says.

Jocelyn Benson (photo), interim dean for the Wayne State Law School, voiced her opinion in a Detroit News op-ed.  The law has special implications for continuing anonymity of big spenders on judicial elections.

Benson noted, “In 2012, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network estimated that donors poured over 14 million dollars into ads attempting to influence our vote in the Michigan Supreme Court race.” Read more

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Michigan Governor Signs What Critics Call ‘Dark Money’ Bill

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (photo) has signed into law controversial legislation that would exempt disclosure of spending for “issue ads” and would double individual campaign contribution limits, according to MichiganRadio.org.

Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a Justice at Stake partner organization, wrote a letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press that protested, “Gov. Snyder’s support of dark money taints his legacy.”

At MLive.com, Snyder defended the legislation in an op-ed entitled, “New law increases transparency, upholds cornerstone of electoral system.” Read more

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MI Senate Resists Greater Disclosure of Election Spending

The Republican-led Michigan state Senate has passed a bill that would exempt disclosure of spending for “issue ads,” even as Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson sought an administrative rules change to require campaign finance reporting by groups that air the ads.

Currently,  any ad that does not endorse a candidate is classified in Michigan as an issue ad, and there are no disclosure requirements for the donors who fund these ads. This kind of advertising has attracted the attention of defenders of fair and impartial courts, including Justice at Stake.

Earlier this year, the Michigan State Bar asked the  Secretary of State for  a declaratory ruling that would require donors to disclose their spending in judicial elections. Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner organization, submitted a letter to Johnson saying a massive lack of disclosure of judicial electioneering spending in Michigan fosters negative advertising that in turn harms public confidence in fair and impartial courts (see Gavel Grab). 

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