It’s one of the most important decisions on the ballot come Election Day, yet the race for Michigan Supreme Court justices has thus far been mostly ignored.
In Michigan, between the buzz surrounding the six controversial statewide ballot proposals and the presidential race, somewhere lost in the shuffle is the race for a three judicial seats in the State’s highest court.
State Supreme Court justices are powerful elected officials. They decide on the issues that shape the state’s constitution as well as settling major controversies moved up from lower courts.
The Michigan Supreme Court has sweeping managerial power over all state courts in Michigan. Some key political issues Michigan Supreme Court justices have decided in recent years are gay marriage, stem cell research and affirmative action.
This year, the Supreme Court played a major role in the allowance of statewide ballot initiatives. This summer the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that voters should decide whether Public Act 4, the law that enabled the governor to appoint financial managers to replace locally elected officials in cash strapped cities like Detroit, should be struck down or upheld. Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, this issue will appear as Proposal 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Major historic decisions rest in the hands of three people who are up for election to rule on the State’s Supreme Court this year. Two positions are for eight-year terms, and one is a two-year partial term.
Despite the importance of justices seated in the Supreme Court, historically there has been a pattern of people skipping the nonpartisan section of the ballot where the options for Michigan Supreme Court justices (along with local court justices) appear.
“Roughly 28 percent of 3.26 million voters in the 2010 general election skipped the nonpartisan portion of the ballot — which lists Supreme Court justices even though they're nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties — as did about 26 percent of 5.04 million who voted in the 2008 presidential election, according to figures from the Secretary of State's office. Yet millions are being spent to influence voters this year.”
With a flood of radio and TV adds made to persuade voters, most voters still don’t know who the candidates are let alone their political alignment.
Although the Supreme Court candidate’s names appear on the nonpartisan section (the back side of the first page of the ballot), the positions are highly politicized. Political parties nominate candidates who bring liberal or conservative views to the bench. These views are often reflected in crucial decision-making affecting every person living in or visiting Michigan.
As with any race, “nonpartisan” or no, the Michigan Supreme Court seating is a political power play between major political parties.
"The Democrats are pretty much cut out of state government right now, and this would give them a piece of the action," Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter told the Detroit News.
"If there's litigation on these ballot proposals, Democrats would dearly love to have a democratically controlled Supreme Court," he said.
But don't let the partisan tension distract from the fact that a straight ticket vote IS NOT a vote for Supreme Court Justice. If you vote a straight ticket you still have to flip the first page of the ballot to the nonpartisan section to make your Supreme Court picks.
In terms of diversity, all of the Democratic Party nominees and one Republican pick for Supreme Court are women and only one canddiate for Supreme Court, Shelia Johnson, is a racial minority.
To read up on the candidates for supreme court, click HERE. Or visit SmartVote.org to learn about some of their past decisions. Below is a FULL LIST list of candidates for Michigan Supreme Court linked to their SmartVote.org profiles:
Full term candidates (eight-year term)--You can vote for two of the following people:
Doug Dern (Natural Law Party nominee)
Connie Marie Kelly (Democratic Party nominee)
Stephen Markman (Republican Party nominee)
Bridget Mary McCormack (Democratic Party nominee)
Kerry L. Morgan (Libertarian party nominee)
Colleen O’Brien (Republican party nominee)
Bob Roddis (Libertarian Pary nominee)
Partial Term candidates (two year term)-- You can vote for only one of the following people:
Mindy Berry (U.S. Taxpayer Party nominee)
Shelia Johnson (Democratic Party nominee)
Brian Zahra (Republican Party nominee)
Just in case voters decided to vote down Proposal 1—that’s Public act 4, also known as the emergency manager law—there is new, similar legislation being crafted.
Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-SD17) told the Associated Press that he and some of his republican counterparts have crafted a replacement for the controversial state law that mandates an emergency manager take control of broke municipalities and schools.
Richardville said the newly drafted legislation is tweaked to address some issues critics have expressed with the original law and will serve as backup on the heels of the Nov. 6 vote.
The move comes after numerous polls have shown that statewide voters are sharply divided on the law, with no solid data the vote will be upheld or struck down.
Richardville told the Associated Press:
"If something happened like that bill was overturned, I think the Legislature would have to be ready to respond and to still deal with the emergency. You can eliminate the financial manager from the emergency financial manager legislation, but you can't remove the emergency."
Richardville’s alternative to PA4 so far has been low key, as neither Gov. Rick Snyder, nor Republican House leaders have mentioned anything about it.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled to suspend the EM law and put it on the ballot in November as Proposal 1.
The law was passed last year by the Michigan Legislature and signed by Snyder
A draft of the alternative emergency manager bill is currently under legal review.
Meanwhile, the debate over Porposal 1, the ballot measure that asked voters to uphold or smash the original EM law, is heating up.
In a live chat on Mlive.com, two state lawmakers, Senator Bert Johnson and State Rep. Al Pscholka, submitted strong opinions on the topic:
State Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) sponsored the legislation that is now PA4 and he continues to be a strong supporter of the measure.
"I know folks like to call it the Emergency Manager law, the name of the legislation is the Fiscal Accountability Act.
There is an easy way to avoid this legislation - pay your bills, don't take on huge debt, live within your means. That's 99 percent of the governments in the state. For others, we need an early warning system and the tools to help temporarily.
Our urban policy has to be more sophisticated than "send more money from Lansing.' It will take a partnership of government, non profits, business, and some real collaboration, not donut and coffee meetings where we all nod our heads about working together.”
“Allen Park also asked for financial review. That is part of the process, which includes a local review team, a state review board, review from the Governor and Treasurer.
EM's are just simply sent into places like critics claim. We need this law to stay so we can help communities before they get to the point of no return financially. Consent agreements and deficit reduction plans are much better. We can get there with a Yes vote on Prop. 1.”
State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) is a vocal critic of PA4. He has been very public about his strong opinions against the legistlation.
“No effort was made to do this in a bipartisan fashion and what we have, quite frankly, is gross government overreach into our local communities. Voters should choose to repeal PA4. The reason is two-fold.
On the surface, it goes against every Constitutional and democratic principle we claim as Americans: Local control, election of our representatives and no taxation without representation.
In practice, it has been a failure. It has led to corruption on the part of Emergency Managers. It has allowed for massive privatization, outsourcing of jobs and has in fact put children at risk.
Additionally, the results are all we need to prove this point. Cities and school districts under an Emergency Manager have not improved. A No vote on Proposal 1 will return some semblance of our democratic rights and will allow us to, hopefully, return to the drawing board to create a better law - one which does not infringe on our Constitutional rights.
Both sides seem to make good points. What do you think?
If President Barack Obama wins Michigan in November, it’s likely that Public Act 4 (PA4), the state’s emergency manager law-turned-ballot-proposal, will not.
How are the two related?
A new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for The Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed that people who support Obama are generally against the PA4 ballot proposal as it is split over party lines.
“According to the poll, Obama voters oppose the emergency manager law, 61%-29%, […]. Romney supporters are almost mirror opposite, supporting emergency managers, 60%-26%.”
The poll results showed Obama with a significant 10-point lead over Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. That’s not a good sign for the fate of PA4.
But it raises the question: When should we cast party politics aside? If the emergency manager law is really helping repair broken school systems and slashing spending for cities in crisis, then isn’t this an example of when it’s best to cross the isle?
Party politics have a way or dividing people and ideas. But just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you have to vote no on PA4, or vice versa.
Politicians often brag about the times they were willing to work together with both sides to get something done.
This news may present a conundrum for Obama supporters who also strongly support PA4: does one have to choose? The ideals seem polarized.
But they don’t have to be. The problem in this election is that with all of the proposals cluttering the ballot, voters may get tired towards the end and vote along political party lines as a shortcut, or simply not vote at all.
Yes, a Republican a governor introduced PA4. It’s a law that would go hard on unions and easy on public spending. But it's one that is needed in cities and school systems tangles in a financial mess. So on Nov. 6th, we shouldn’t trap ourselves in party zones, even if it makes voting quicker and easier. Voters can work with both sides of the political isle to get things done, too.
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