Gavel Grab

‘Arms Race’ for Judicial Election Spending in Michigan: JAS

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240Michigan is shaping up as a major battleground for three contested seats on its state Supreme Court. Spending on TV advertising airtime has climbed to $1.2 million, as the state GOP began airing an ad promoting its nominees, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported.

The sums spent on TV advertising so far are the highest for any state supreme court election, the groups said in a joint statement on Friday. Judicial candidates have spent nearly $990,000, and the state GOP TV ad campaign has cost an estimated $244,720.

“It’s troubling that spending in Michigan’s Supreme Court race is again on track to reach astronomical proportions,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “Michigan has become a national symbol of an arms race that is putting pressure on judges to answer to political pressure instead of the law and the constitution.” Read more

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Editorial: Get Money Out of State High Court Races

michigan supreme corut

“Justices should be appointed by the governor from a list of candidates proposed by a blue-ribbon, non-partisan committee and then face confirmation by public vote,” opines an editorial on the Holland (Michigan) Sentinel.

The editorial revisits the problems in the current method of electing Michigan Supreme Court justices: campaign fundraising, partisanship, and “dark money,” coming from undisclosed contributors.

Michigan had the most costly state Supreme Court race of 2012, with campaign donations totaling $3.4 million and “dark money” spending that totaled $13.85 million. So far this year, the spending has been much less; candidates had spent $690,000 by the end of September to book TV ad time, the editorial says in relying on Justice at Stake data.

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Local Commissioner: Michigan Facing Crisis in the Courts

County courts in Michigan are short millions of dollars after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that courts could not make defendants bear part of the costs of trials, writes Allegan County Commissioner Jon Campbell in a Grand Haven Tribune op-ed. Courts can only impose fees that are authorized by the legislature.

These courts have been limited in their function since the ruling was passed down in June and are waiting for the Legislature to identify new funding sources (unlikely in an election year) or restore authority to implement “user fees.” Campbell, who urges quick action by legislators in order to avert a crisis, is incoming president of the Michigan Association of Counties.

If the courts aren’t sufficiently funded, citizens could see long delays and large backlogs of cases, limiting their access to justice.

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Ideology Battle Avoided in MI Supreme Court Race?

An expected heated battle among Democrats surrounding a Michigan Supreme Court nominee was avoided at this weekend’s convention.

Commentary in the Toledo Blade said, “a threatened revolt among Democrats over a potential state Supreme Court nominee fizzled even more weakly. Nobody doubted that William Murphy, the Michigan Court of Appeals chief judge, has the legal credentials and experience to serve on the high court.”

The anticipated trouble stemmed from the judge’s personal opposition to abortion. Justice Murphy sent a letter stating his personal views do not affect his application of the law.

“I am by the very definition a ‘rule of law’ judge,” he said. “I promise to uphold the law of the land. The law of the land is Roe vs. Wade,” the 1973 decision that women have the right to an abortion.

Judge Murphy added: “It is not the place of any judge to rule based on ideology, but [instead] to be guided by the U.S. Constitution and the precedents established by the United States Supreme Court.”

Three Supreme Court seats will be contested this November.

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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 article.

On Saturday, Judge Murphy said after his nomination, according to another 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 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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