One of my favorite movies is Bull Durham, and one of my favorite U.S. presidents is Abraham Lincoln. You might think that these two topics have nothing in common, but I hope to show you that they do and that they offer lessons for the Michigan Supreme Court as November 3rd approaches.
Judges and judicial candidates are repeatedly asked to explain what we believe in. It is an understandable question, though one that is not always easy to answer. Our beliefs on public policies—e.g., taxes, school funding, environmental regulations—should have literally no impact on our jurisprudence. It is the role of the legislator and executive official to enact and enforce policies for addressing public problems. In contrast, it is the role of a judge to resolve the particular case that is brought to the bench. And while a public policy might be implicated in a particular case, the wisdom or folly of that policy is never before the court—rather, a judge must consider whether the policy was constitutionally enacted, whether the policy conflicts with another policy, whether the policy was constitutionally enforced, and the like. So, if a state policy is simply unwise (but otherwise constitutional), then it is for the Legislature and Governor to fix, not the Judiciary.
But this leaves unanswered the question of what a judge believes in.
There is a scene in Bull Durham when Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) goes on a rant about what he believes in. It is a funny, rambling diatribe (with some NSFW language), but it somehow coheres into a reflection of his personality. In this spirit (but not nearly as funny), here is my answer to the question, “What do you believe in, Judge Swartzle?”
I believe that every person has the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness;
- that every person is equal before the law and entitled to due process;
- that the rights enshrined in our First Amendment are fundamental to a free people;
- that the right to private property and the right to contract are fundamental tenants of the Rule of Law;
- that a case should be resolved on its individual merit, not on whether a political party or official supports or opposes a particular outcome;
- that, for the parties involved, the case in front of me is one of the most important events in their lives, and those parties needs to be treated fairly, with respect and dignity;
- that good prosecutors protect us from chaos, and good defense attorneys protect us from tyranny—and both need to be better funded; and
- that our judicial system is very good, though far from perfect—and we need continuous improvement and better funding for indigent defense and legal aid.
And finally, I believe—deeply—that our public lives should be guided by the wisest words ever uttered by a public official:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” President Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
Be well, and be charitable, as we approach November 3rd. Do your research for all of the candidates, but especially those running in the nonpartisan races.
And if you like what you see on BrockForJustice.com, I hope that you will help me #BrockTheCourt on Election Day!