THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
06th October, 2022 0
One of Michigan’s most important elections that always flies under the radar is for the Michigan Supreme Court, which has the final say on issues such as whether laws enacted by the state Legislature are constitutional, weighing in on the validity of ballot initiatives and more.
Two state Supreme Court seats are up for grabs on November 8th; and the top two vote-getters among five candidates will be seated for eight-year terms. The seven-member bench is currently a 4-3 split, with Democratic nominees to the bench holding a one-justice majority.
In addition to the upcoming election to determine the fate of two Supreme Court seats, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will soon have the opportunity to nominate a replacement for Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, who has announced her upcoming retirement.
While Michigan Supreme Court elections are nonpartisan, nominees are nonetheless put forward and supported by political parties. For this race Democratic oriented nominees consist of incumbent justice Richard Bernstein and state representative Kyra Harris Bolden, while Republican nominees consist of incumbent justice Brian Zahra, and attorney Paul Hudson, with Libertarian Kerry Lee Morgan rounding out the ticket.
This nonpartisan voter guide for candidates running for the Michigan Supreme Court in the November 8th General Election was designed by college students from UM Ann Arbor, UM Dearborn, UM Flint, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University, who all came together to improve student voting in Michigan.
This coalition of students was led by Turn Up Turnout, a nonpartisan organization focused on student voter education, registration, and turnout. Questionnaires were sent out to candidates months prior to the election. Any ideas expressed in the responses contained in this voter guide belong solely to the candidates listed.
The REVIEW is proud to present this forum consisting of four of the five nominees who responded in order to assure for a more informed electorate. We hope you find it beneficial.
Please provide a short candidate bio outlining your background & qualifications.
Richard Bernstein: In 2014, I was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court and became the first blind Justice. I am an attorney, educator, and former Chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors. Prior to serving on the Court, I led the Public Service Division of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm and fought to set national standards to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
I successfully partnered with the United States Department of Justice to force the City of Detroit to fix broken wheelchair lifts on its buses, establishing a precedent for accessibility in public transportation. I represented the Paralyzed Veterans of America to ensure safe access for disabled individuals visiting Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan which established guidelines that are now used by commercial facilities across the country. I am also an avid runner and have successfully completed 25 marathons and full Ironman Triathlon.
Kyra Harris Bolden: I am an attorney, currently serving my second term, representing the 35th District in the Michigan State House. I have gotten 5 bi-partisan bills passed and signed into law. I am a graduate of Southfield Public Schools and received my bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University and Juris Doctor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. I decided to run for Michigan Supreme Court because I love Michigan and I want to protect access to justice, and ensure equal justice under the law for generations.
Kerry Lee Morgan: I am an attorney and founder of the Consumer Law Group, P.C. My chief areas of practice involve municipal law, employment discrimination, civil rights, educational policy and federal firearms law. I have extensive litigation experience gained in over 40 years of legal practice working with municipal, cooperative housing and business clients to resolve legal disputes. I have also written a number of thought-provoking articles in the areas of natural law and unalienable rights. In 1997, University Press of America published my book, Real Choice, Real Freedom in American Education, a scholarly work that articulates the legal and Constitutional case for parental rights and against governmental control of American education. I previously served as an Attorney-Advisor with the United States Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. and as the Director of the U.S. Bicentennial Project for Regent University.
Brian Zahra: I am a graduate of the University of Detroit Law School, where I served on the Law Review and as Articles Editor of the State Bar of Michigan’s Corporation, Finance & Business Law Journal. I clerked in the federal district court before joining the Dickinson Wright law firm. I was appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court in 1994, the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1998 and the Michigan Supreme Court in 2011. I have taught at the University of Detroit-Mercy Law School, Michigan State Law School, and University of Michigan Dearborn. I have served as Senior Fellow of Law and Public Policy at the University of Michigan- Dearborn as well as a Distinguished Fellow of Constitutional Law at Hillsdale College. Justice Zahra also Co-Chairs Michigan’s Justice for All Commission, which seeks to provide access to legal services to those unable to retain attorneys in civil disputes
Why is it important for students and citizens in general to vote in judicial races?
Bernstein: Michigan Supreme Court elections are often overlooked yet the decisions the Court makes are some of the most personal and impactful decisions that significantly affect Michiganders. This year alone the Court has made the final determination on redistricting maps, the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, and whether or not ballot initiatives met the requirements to be placed on the general election ballot.
Moving forward, the Court will likely have the final word on abortion access in Michigan as well as how elections are conducted in Michigan. The long-lasting impact of these decisions will affect students for years to come and it could not be more important for students to ask themselves what kind of judges they want on Michigan’s highest court. I hope students will vote for the third branch of government on the non-partisan section of the ballot and make their voices heard.
Bolden It is important to be involved in judicial races because the decisions made by judges will affect their future and determine the Michigan we live in for generations to come.
Morgan: Voting is one expression of the unalienable right of government by consent, one of the foundational principles of our nation. Failure to vote is choosing to be governed by another's consent. The judicial branch is part of the government and choice of judges is no less or more important that executive or legislative branch choices.
Zahra: It is important to vote in all elections, not just judicial elections. The future is yours and casting educated votes for those in in your government is not only your civic duty but also an excellent investment into your future
What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the courts today?
Bernstein: In addition to the many critical cases the Michigan Supreme Court decides, its other key function is to oversee the administration of all other courts in the state which includes establishing rules for practices and procedures in all Michigan courts. I believe greater access to justice is needed in both our civil and criminal justice systems. We must ensure all people have an opportunity to participate and navigate the justice system without getting left behind. The Court’s Justice For All Task Force is committed to working towards 100% access to justice and I applaud the continuing effort to make Michigan courts more accessible to all people statewide.
Bolden: As a non-partisan judicial candidate, the Michigan Judicial Canons prohibit answering questions regarding issues, or taking positions on matters that could be presented to the court.
Morgan: A Judges’ opinions are “monuments” and “evidence” of the law, but they are not the law itself (W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Law of England, vol.1, p. 63). Consequently, judges are simply “the depository of the laws . . . . who are bound by an oath to decide according to the law of the land.” (Id. at 68). Upon Blackstone’s Commentaries, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in Osborn v. The Bank, 9 Wheat. 738 (1824): Courts are mere instruments of the law, and can will nothing . . . . Judicial power is never exercised for the purpose of giving effect to the will of the judge; always for the purpose of giving effect . . . . to the will of the law. (p.866). The most pressing issue facing courts is loss of this understanding.
Zahra: The greatest challenge facing Michigan court system is the denial of meaningful access to the civil justice system. More than 50% of the people in need of legal services in Michigan do not have access to a lawyer, and over 90% of low income people do not even recognize they have legal problems when they are confronted with them. Unlike the criminal justice system, there is no constitutional right to a lawyer in civil cases. Nonetheless, civil cases involve issues of critical importance to Michiganders, like housing, child custody, domestic disputes and debt collection. To address the civil justice gap, the Supreme Court formed in 2021 a Justice for All Commission, which I co-chair. We are rethinking how legal services are provided to those in need, and implementing strategies to expand access to and enhance the quality of the civil legal justice system in Michigan.
What educational life and judicial experience prepares you for this position?
Bernstein: I was born legally blind and my unique life challenge has helped fuel my passion for fairness and driven my professional, legal, and public service work. I believe in justice that is blind to ideology, blind to special interests, and blind to partisan politics. As a Justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, I listen, make sure all sides are heard, and that the rule of law is always served. A good judge knows what it means to struggle and overcome unique life challenges. I have spent my career fighting to ensure justice is served for all people, including those with disabilities. Education and work experience are certainly important, but I firmly believe the most critical factor that prepares one to become a good judge is their life experience.
Bolden: I have a deep respect for the law and have seen the depth and breadth of law in my years of practice and lawmaking. After becoming a member of the State Bar, I practiced as a criminal defense attorney. Then, I served as a Judicial Law Clerk in Wayne County’s Third Circuit Court under the Honorable Judge John A. Murphy, the longest-serving judge and longest-serving elected African American judge in the State of Michigan. As a Judicial Law Clerk, I performed legal research, made recommendations to the Judge on legal interpretation based upon relevant case law, and drafted opinions on a myriad of civil issues. Before successfully running for office in 2018, I also practiced as a civil litigation attorney with Lewis & Munday, P.C., in several practice areas.
Morgan: I have been licensed to practice for over 40 years. I am admitted to practice law in Michigan, Virginia, the District of Columbia, the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan, the U.S. District Court Western District of Michigan, the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Zahra: Having owned and operated a small retail business to pay my way through school instilled in me life experiences that have proven extremely valuable in every aspect of my legal career. I am also the only member of the Supreme Court to bring to the state’s highest court prior judicial experience as a Court of Appeals judge (12 years) and a trial judge (4 years). This exposed me to every facet of our court system and provided me with a detailed understanding of how our courts function. I have tried hundreds of cases and evidentiary proceedings, and reviewed on appeal thousands of trials. This firsthand knowledge and experience provides unique insight into the proper application of rules of evidence and procedure, and an understanding of how the rulings of the Supreme Court impact the people of Michigan. These life experiences contribute greatly to my effectiveness as a Supreme Court Justice.
Editor's Note: For more candidate forums impacting our state & region on November 8th, check out more of the 2022 Non-Partisan Michigan College Voter Guide by clicking this link.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)