Republican political columnist calls for Michigan Supreme Court reform
George Weeks, syndicated political columnist and staunch conservative, echoed the call for reform of the Michigan Supreme Court in Sunday's newspaper. He cited figures from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, showing that in 86 percent of all cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, at least one campaign contributor was involved. He also quoted the Michigan Campaign Finance Network's data showing that more than forty percent of the 23 million spent on Michigan Supreme Court campaigns since 2000 are unreported and undocumented.
Weeks also noted that a study from Louisiana documented that on average, justices rule in favor of their contributors 65 percent of the time. That study noted that it identified two justices who voted with their contributors eighty percent of the time (I guess I'd be sure to contribute to their campaign if I practiced where they do). Documented numbers from the recent history of our Supreme Court suggest that numbers for the Engler appointees to our Court would be even higher than eighty percent. At one point, they had voted with their insurance constituency in excess of ninety percent of the time. They would offer the explanation that they are "true believers" in eliminating injury lawsuits and compensation; it is hard to gauge that claim when it is reported that they are also receiving 7-figure campaign contributions from the insurance industry and Chamber of Commerce.
Elsewhere in this blog we have explained some of the many activist reversals of long-standing law and public policy that these Justices have sheparded through the courts--which reversals all have the effect of serving the Justices' contributors. Weeks noted that the Chamber of Commerce refuses to acknowledge the extent of its contributions to the Engler Justices' campaigns. He also pointed out the hypocrisy of listing these Justices on the ballot as "non-partisan" when they have been nominated by a Party Convention. At least historically, their identification as "incumbents" [a designation that neither presidents, governors nor legislators enjoy] on the non-partisan ballot virtually guaranteed their reelection, even without 7-figure campaign war chests.
Weeks noted Republican-appointee and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's blunt criticism of the "purchased judge" system of which, in his mind, Michigan's Supreme Court has become Exhibit A.
Weeks also brought attention to Republican Justice Betty Weaver's efforts to revise the system to require prompt disclosure of campaign financing and to require some other form of "advice and consent" when a sitting Governor makes judicial appointments. Weaver's latter effort is a reaction to Engler's choice of appointments when he was Governor: the four Supreme Court Justices whom he appointed to judgeships were all very partisan activists with little or no experience in the courtroom. People like the husband of his chief of staff, Cliff Taylor, and the chief counsel of AAA. In other words, people whose vote he could count on, but who wouldn't have stood a chance of approval if experience and qualifications were measured objectively. Sadly, experience has shown that Engler's expectations with regard to these judges were accurate: they have been a reliable voice for the most conservative contributors to their Republican Party, whether the issue is the environment, victims' or consumers' rights, due process, reproductive rights or campaign finance reform.
Most of us would hope never to have to appear in court on an important personal matter. If we are dragged or forced into a controversy, we would only hope to have an impartial judge. Sadly, rich special interests often get to go us one better: they get to appear before a judge whom they have purchased and who owes his position on the bench to their support.