Supreme Court justice sees need for election reforms

By Dale Leslie

Jackson Legal News

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack of Ann Arbor says she has enjoyed her first two months on the bench and reports that her new colleagues have all been warm and helpful. But she admits to being humbled recently.

Her son, an eighth-grader at Slauson Middle School, asked his mother at the breakfast table, "Mom, do you know anything about the Constitution?"

McCormack, elected to the Supreme Court last November, shared the anecdote to a luncheon audience at the Ann Arbor City Club last month.

Despite her election success last fall, McCormack is focused on ways the process can be improved to produce a more independent court. She favors a re-examination of the partisanship in the nomination process.

"Michigan Supreme Court candidates are nominated at the major political party conventions," she notes.

"The November election is non-partisan, but the hoops we jump through to appear on the state ballot are held by the state politicos. A judiciary that is not perceived as politically driven doesn't demand the confidence it could from the public."

Justice McCormack believes that reform could be on the horizon, as citizens from across the political spectrum regularly express frustration with the current system.

"Last spring, a bipartisan task force led by two veteran jurists - Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and Senior Judge James L. Ryan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit--noted that Michigan's process for choosing Supreme Court justices has attracted national attention for its excessive cost, its lack of transparency, and its damaging negativity."

The Kelly-Ryan report confirmed what McCormack also has concluded.

"Polling has consistently shown that a majority of Michigan voters believe that judicial campaign contributions have influence on the decisions that judges make," McCormack says.

The task force's report can be viewed in its entirety at mi-judicialselection.com.

In addition to taking partisanship out of the nominating process, the Kelly-Ryan reforms recommend more robust disclosure of campaign contributions, and that when a governor fills a court vacancy it is done so from a group of candidates proposed by a bipartisan committee.

The new Michigan Supreme Court justice feels she was a victim of negative ads during the campaign, as were all of the other candidates. In McCormack's case, $1 million was invested in attack ads against her by the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington, D.C. based organization which lists its purpose on its website: "Our commitment is to the Constitution and the Founders' vision of a nation of limited government; dedicated to the rule of law; with a fair and impartial judiciary. Every American deserves equal justice under law."

One might ask, "In the election process, too?"

Published: Mon, Mar 11, 2013

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