Michigan, Michigan Democrats, Michigan Republicans, Rick Snyder — January 13, 2013 at 11:09 am

Michigan Gov Snyder to pick new Supreme Court justice – will he show moderation or ideological Republican extremism?


Snyder’s Supreme Court appointment will set the tone for the 2013 legislative session

As I anticipated (rather testily) last month, Democrats are losing a voice on the Michigan state Supreme Court. Thanks to the unethical behavior of Diane Hathaway, whose name will now forever be associated with the betrayal of Democrats and Michigan citizens in general, we went from a 4-3 Republican-to-Democrat ratio to what will be a 5-2 balance once Governor Rick Snyder makes his appointment.

This has many people across the state wondering what Snyder will do with this opportunity.

On the one hand, he could continue his recent trend of appeasing the far right conservatives in his party, cementing the partisan divide that has so intensely polarized our state and that has created warring factions who despise each other.

On the other hand, he could choose a more moderate candidate who is more palatable to Democrats in Michigan. By doing this, the Governor could begin to repair some of the damage that was done when he chose to force Right to Work legislation through during the inflamed duck session and the animosity he created by passing laws that hinder women’s access to legal abortion services in our state.

Make no mistake: this is a crucial and weighty decision that Snyder will make, likely in the next week or two. As we have seen in the past couple of years, the state Supreme Court often decides which candidates and ballot proposals get on our ballots. They decide the constitutionality of laws that are passed by our state legislature. They make decisions on an incredibly wide array of issues from women’s rights and environmental protection to insurance regulation and labor issues.

This is, without question, a BFD.

If the Governor wanted to extend the ultimate olive branch to Democrats, he would take a look at the last election and simply choose the person who came in third — the “runner-up” in the 2012 election, if you will, Judge Connie Marie Kelley.

[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]

If you read my interview with Justice Kelley, you quickly understand that she is not highly-partisan justice. On the contrary, he main goals are making sure that our judicial system is accessible to all Michiganders and that your ability to get a fair hearing in our court system isn’t determined by how much many you’re able to spend on a lawyer.

From our interview:

“I know there are a lot of things we can do to make the criminal justice process more accessible to people. But, a lot of times it depends on the person who is sitting on the bench, too. There are simple things we can do that don’t cost a lot. You just have to be committed to it and come up with creative ways to help people through the process. Like PPOs, personal protection orders. I’m on the Domestic Violence Court that I helped to create in Wayne County in addition to my family law duties.”

“Do you think it’s working?” I asked. “Is it paying off?”

“You know, I’m convinced we’ve saved lives, Chris,” Judge Kelley answered. “It was really fascinating. I mean, I see the worst of the worst in domestic violence cases in Wayne County. What got me involved in this, what made me start thinking as a judge was that I would give a PPO to someone, and about 98% of the petitions in these case are women, and, you know, there are usually children involved. And I felt like we were just saying, ‘Goodbye and good luck’ and I wasn’t really helping them. So, three judges, we got together and we applied for a grant from the Office of Violence Against Women and now we call it the “Solutions-Oriented Domestic Violence Court” because we want to help come up with solutions so that these people don’t ever have to come back.

“We partnered with about 30 different agencies in Wayne County — law enforcement, First Step, shelters, cash assistance agencies. We like for them to finish school so Schoolcraft College is one of our partners, they have a transitions program. So, we’re actually trying to help people move out of the cycle of domestic violence instead of just giving them this piece of paper and hoping that nothing bad happens. I’m really committed to that cause.”

“I’ll bet you have saved lives,” I commented.

“I think we have,” she said.

When you consider that there were seven candidates running for the state Supreme Court in November, choosing the third highest vote-getter makes a lot of sense. The people of Michigan were given numerous choices and Judge Kelley was their next choice after top two were given a seat on the court.

That would be a truly peacemaking choice for Governor Snyder and one that makes a great deal of sense in many regards.

There are other moderate choices out there, as well. For example, I’ve heard the names of Judges Jane Markey and Peter O’Connell talked about as compromise candidates. They are both Republicans but are moderates who aren’t ideologues like some of their colleagues.

So, Governor Snyder has a choice to make. He can do even more to shore up his support among Republicans who are pretty happy with him right about now. Or, he can begin to build a bridge across the chasm created by the 2012 legislative session where the interests and cares of Democratic legislators and their constituents across the state were tossed aside in the name of ramming through a highly conservative agenda. Given that he has an election coming up in 2014, the latter path may be his shrewdest move from a political standpoint.

We’re likely to find out what path he takes in the next couple of weeks and that choice may very well help dictate the tone of the 2013 legislative session. Stay tuned.

[CC: Lustitia image by Bjarki S (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons,]