Don’t Forget the Supreme Court Races

(Editor’s note: The following is an edited version of a letter Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman recently sent to Mackinac Center supporters.)

Even the very best governor and Legislature couldn’t give us sound public policy without judges who respect the rule of law. By now you’re likely tired of hearing how important the November election is for the six statewide ballot measures, but your choices on those might be moot unless they’re coupled with wise selections for three slots on the Michigan Supreme Court.

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I wrote last time that understanding the ballot proposals was going to be demanding and that we were doing everything we could to help voters understand the issues. My purpose with this brief letter is to help you understand the high court elections as well.

Ballot proposals have 100-word descriptions that are more-or-less accurate. Candidates (besides judges) have partisan labels that, while highly imperfect, still provide useful information. But judicial candidates appear on the ballot with no party labels because those elections are officially nonpartisan.

However, nonpartisan in this case doesn’t mean political parties aren’t involved. The parties actually nominate the judicial candidates who appear on the ballot even though their names appear without the parties that nominated them. That means voters need to do more research on the judicial races (which is a good thing) to avoid casting an uninformed vote.

Republicans this year nominated for the high court incumbent Supreme Court Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra along with Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Colleen O’Brien.

Democrats nominated Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Connie Marie Kelley, Oakland County District Court Judge Shelia Johnson, and University of Michigan law professor Bridget Mary McCormack. (A Democratic strategy document anticipates uninformed voters by recommending a campaign built around gender and ethnicity — “males lose to Irish females,” it says.)

Libertarians nominated Bob Roddis and Kerry L. Morgan. The Natural Law Party nominated Doug Dern.

Another way to inform your choice is to learn who your most trusted organizations endorse for Supreme Court. For instance, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce endorses Markman, Zahra and O’Brien. Michigan’s trial lawyer association supports Kelley, Johnson and McCormack. Major newspapers endorse different mixes. (The Mackinac Center’s mission is strictly educational so we never endorse any candidate.)

Three vacancies on the seven-member state Supreme Court are more than enough to swing it from the current majority that seems guided by the rule of law to a majority that sees its role as a way to change the law to its liking. No court always gets it right, of course, so we started the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation to give jurists access to solid arguments grounded in respect for the rule of law.

Our daily Capitol Confidential news site ( also carries analysis of the judicial and other races that may otherwise be lost in the noise. Check it out.

We’ve never done a better job equipping voters to make informed choices on Election Day. We’ve given more than 100 speeches on the ballot measures. I hope you’ve seen and heard our Internet and radio ads which point people to our ballot measure research at News media and even campaign ads cite our research.

Our analysts calculated the only estimate of the cost of Proposal 2, a minimum of $1.6 billion annually. And it was our researcher, Mike Van Beek, who turned up the teacher contract in Bay City that amazingly gives teachers five chances to be drunk at school before they can be fired.

That’s important because Prop 2 would prevent lawmakers from imposing a stricter standard than the one in the union contract.

Because of the way it would affect the momentum of union power in the country, I believe Proposal 2 is the most important election in the nation except for the presidential.

We’ll have plenty more to talk about after the election. Until then, best wishes and thank you for your support and interest.


Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center is properly cited.

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