Larsen named to State Supreme Court

By David Eggert

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan law professor with conservative credentials was appointed Wednesday to the Michigan Supreme Court, filling an opening caused by the early departure of Justice Mary Beth Kelly.

Joan Larsen, special counsel to the law school's dean, is Gov. Rick Snyder's third appointment to the court. Through elections and appointments, Republican nominees have a 5-2 majority.

"I am truly honored and humbled to serve," Larsen told reporters. Larsen, 47, told reporters. She said she believes in "enforcing the text (of laws) as written. I don't think judges are a policy-making branch of government."

In a surprise announcement in August, Kelly said she would leave the bench for private practice with more than three years left in her first term.

Larsen, who starts today, will face election in 2016 to finish the remainder of Kelly's term and can run again in 2018 if she wants to pursue a full eight-year term.

"We went and found her. Her name and background surfaced very quickly," said Snyder, citing Larsen's experience in "some of the highest positions anyone could hope to have in their legal career."

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. said that Larsen was "a perfect fit with a Court that is second to none in its commitment to the rule of law and legal scholarship."

The new justice is a former deputy assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Justice Department during the administration of President George W. Bush, which prompted questions from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The group said Larsen co-wrote a secret 2002 memo regarding detainees' right to habeas corpus - the legal principle, enshrined in the Constitution, which allows courts to determine whether a prisoner is being held illegally. The ACLU called for "full disclosure" about Larsen's role in crafting post-Sept. 11 legal policies related to torture, warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention.

Asked Wednesday if she gave legal advice regarding interrogation techniques, Larsen said she had no role.

"There were only certain people who were read in on those (classified) things, and I wasn't one of them," she said.

She was also law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit Judge David B. Sentelle, both of whom she called "great role models." For more than a decade, she has taught at the University of Michigan where she won the L. Hart Wright Award for excellence in teaching.

"Joan Larsen is an accomplished, nationally recognized legal scholar, successful teacher, and keen legal thinker," Young continued. "My colleagues and I welcome her to a collegial Court that is ready to work with her in building on our successful record of making Michigan's judiciary a model for the nation."

"I have practiced law, taught the law, and enforced the law," said Larsen. "Public service has always been my calling. I look forward to serving the people of Michigan by faithfully interpreting the constitution and laws of our great state."

The new justice graduated first in her class from Northwestern University School of Law where she won numerous awards for legal scholarship. Larsen is also an experienced lawyer who served in the Washington, D.C. office of Sidley & Austin. She has written extensively on the Constitution, international law, the judicial system, and separation of powers. She is a member of the State Bar of Michigan and the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

Her research and teaching interests include constitutional law, criminal procedure and presidential power, according to the law school's website.

Larsen is the third justice with no experience as a judge. The others are Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein. McCormack was also a law professor in Ann Arbor before winning election to the court as a Democratic nominee in 2012.

"She told me tremendous things," Larsen said of McCormack. "She was probably the biggest cheerleader for why I should want to do this job."

Larsen lives in Scio Township near Ann Arbor with her husband, Adam Pritchard, who also is a University of Michigan law professor, their 15-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

Published: Thu, Oct 01, 2015