The Michigan GOP succeeds in rigging the court system to make sure Republican judges hear the cases they want to win.
It’s a disgrace, a mockery of democracy and Michigan’s justice system — and a legislative maneuver that puts even more power in the hands of Republicans.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-led Michigan House voted 57-52 to pass Senate Bill 652, moving the Court of Claims to the Court of Appeals. I wrote about the details of this egregious power-grab earlier today.
SB 652 restructures the Michigan Court of Claims in a way that allows a political party in power to hand-pick the judges who hear cases against the state of Michigan. By stacking the courts in their favor, Republicans who dominate all three branches of the government would be able to quickly pass controversial laws, obtain a governor’s signature and put them into effect without constitutional concerns receiving a hearing before a judge or jury.
Republicans justify the move by arguing that only three percent of Michiganders get to vote for judges in the Court of Claims. But by moving it to the Court of Appeals, zero percent get to vote for them. Instead, the cases will be handled by GOP-nominated judges.
And, of course, House Republicans gave the bill immediate effect, something the Michigan GOP is apparently unwilling to do for any bills other than those that suit their partisan agenda. Remember: They refused to give Medicaid expansion immediate effect, which will cost the state millions of dollars.
Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement immediately following the House vote:
As a legislator, a lawyer and a citizen, I am appalled by the House Republican Majority’s passage of SB 652 today, continuing the blatant partisan support for a purely political bill. Michigan Republicans clearly have no concept of good government, civics or ethics, as they are deliberately diluting the judicial branch’s oversight of the Legislature and undermining citizens’ rights in favor of cronyism and partisan politics. The bill was introduced two weeks ago and rushed through the Senate last week, and the bill sponsor himself doesn’t even know how the legislation would affect current Court of Claims lawsuits on the Governor’s NERD Fund or Michigan’s emergency manager law. This proposal has clearly not been well thought-out or thoroughly vetted, yet will have devastating and far-reaching repercussions on our state.
Even a well-respected former House Republican staffer who worked on the House Judiciary Committee for more than 40 years testified in opposition to Senate Bill 652 yesterday, making the very same claims I and many others have raised: that the bill is rigging our court system against the people and that it is eroding the very foundation of our justice system.
Every House Democrat voted against final passage of Senate Bill 652, raising concerns including those cited by House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel.
Citizens use the Court of Claims to question unconstitutional laws and seek justice against the state when it fails to act on their behalf. The Court of Claims must be independent and neutral. Instead, this proposal calls the impartiality of our judicial system into question, and makes it possible for the three branches of government to collude to fast-track unpopular and potentially unconstitutional laws into effect over the objections of the people.
SB 652 blurs the lines of separation of powers and turns the state’s judicial system into an extension of a political party by allowing one person to pick which judges sit on the Court of Claims — and more, said Rep. Ellen Cogen-Lipton.
Not only will one person pick and choose which appellate judges hear Court of Claims cases, but those decisions can only be appealed to the same appellate court. Even challenges to this law itself will be heard by the same oddly rigged Court of Claims. Instead of making government accountable, this law makes it easier for the government to hold itself above the law.
What’s more, the bill is being rushed into law despite any analysis of what it might cost taxpayers. Nevertheless, Governor Rick Snyder has said he will sign the bill into law when it gets to his desk. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, opponents of the bill have pledged to challenge it, with some saying the bill is unconstitutional.
The Michigan Association for Justice, along with several local Bar Associations, the ACLU of Michigan, members of the Ingham County Commission and other interested parties have submitted a letter to Governor Rick Snyder [PDF]. The letter spells out the flaws in SB 652 and asks the Governor to veto this legislation.
Make your voice heard. Contact Governor Snyder to let him know you oppose this legislation and ask him to veto it.
If this bill becomes law, the Michigan GOP might as well start wearing judges’ robes, because they’ll control the courts, now, too.
[CC: Lustitia image by Bjarki S (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons]