Court tilts right (again)
Wayne County off hook in rape case
Published: August 3, 2011
Some decisions, such as the campaign finance case and an environmental case involving permitting, were redecided this year, with the new conservative majority undoing decisions of the progressive majority that existed last term.
With every decision, civil rights advocates and the Michigan Democratic Party say they get more geared up for next year's election, when three of the seven seats on the high court will be contested. Up for re-election are conservative justices Stephen Markman, a former U.S. attorney nominated by President George Bush, and Brian Zahra, a former Wayne County judge who was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Snyder in January.
In addition, the more liberal Justice Marilyn Kelly is retiring, and her seat will be hotly contested. The two major parties are currently researching candidates and thinking about how to mobilize voters.
"There's no question we're going to be using these cases next year," says Mark Brewer, the Michigan Democratic Party chairman. "These kinds of decisions are what give additional motivation to candidates. When they see these kinds of decisions, it angers them and upsets them, and people say, 'This has to change.'"
Technically Supreme Court races are nonpartisan, but nominees are chosen by the two major parties and receive financial backing from them. Parties are not indicated on the ballot, but incumbents are designated as such.
Elmer Roller, one of the jail victim's attorneys, says last week's decision in favor of employers is yet another example of how judicial politics can play out in the courtroom. When well-financed political players are elected, they are then beholden to the interests that helped them into office, the thinking goes.
And with campaign spending for state Supreme Court seats at record levels in 2010, he wonders about what qualities election winners have.
"We have politicians who are elected as opposed to academics, as opposed to scholars and imminently qualified people," Roller says. "It's taking a toll on individual civil rights, individual rights and liberties. It's a clear indication that individual rights, especially for women in the workplace, have been dramatically affected."
Roller will decide in the next few weeks whether to file in federal court, because he believes the Supreme Court's decision puts the interpretation of Michigan civil rights law at odds with federal statutes. "The argument would be, 'This is a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution,'" he says.
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