Last week I explained why I write, and I noted that candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court need to explain their judicial philosophy and show their work to voters (see here). For my part, I have set forth my judicial philosophy in prior essays (see here and here), and I have shown my work by posting my judicial opinions (see here). This week, I want to focus on the kinds of qualifications and experience that voters should look for in a candidate.
Voters should start by considering what a Michigan Supreme Court Justice does. There are several aspects of being a Justice, including: (1) resolving legal disputes with written opinions; (2) working as part of a team; (3) overseeing and administering our state’s judicial system; (4) interacting with the other branches of government; and (5) explaining and clarifying the law for the bench and bar, as well as the general public. When trying to figure out whom to support, voters should ask candidates what experience they have in these 5 areas that qualify them to be a Justice.
I will start the job interview by listing my relevant qualifications and experience:
(1)Resolving Legal Disputes. The main role of the Supreme Court is to resolve legal disputes. On this score, I have the most experience working for courts of any candidate on the ballot. I have been a Michigan Court of Appeals judge for over 3.5 years, and earlier in my career, I worked for 3 federal courts for 7 years (trial and appellate). Combined, I have over 10.5 years of federal and state court experience.
(2) Team. The Supreme Court is a 7-person team, but the Court also includes law clerks, security, HR, and other vital staff members. Everywhere I have gone, I have been part of a team, including in the federal courts, the law firm, the Legislature, and now the Michigan Court of Appeals. On the appellate court, we work as 3-judge panels, so I have experience working with other judges, trying to build consensus, but knowing when to stick to my guns when I disagree with my colleagues.
(3) Oversight and Administration.As Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives in 2015-2016,I had responsibility for an annual budget of $65 million and helped to oversee 400+ House member offices and staff.I also served as General Counsel for the House from 2013-2016, advising the Speaker of the House on litigation, personnel, internal investigations, and related matters.
(4) Other Branches of Government. As the only candidate who has any legislative experience, I represented the House from 2013-2016 during negotiations with the Governor’s Office, the Senate, the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Office, and other public and private entities. To be able to drive hard bargains with the other branches of government, it is good to know how they work, and this takes first-hand experience.
(5) Clarify and Explain the Law. This is something I have done my entire career. In private practice, I explained the law to clients and advised them about their options. As a federal law clerk, I advised federal judges about what the law meant and how it applied in particular cases. As General Counsel to the House, I explained how proposed legislation would fit within the law as a whole, and I testified before various legislative committees. As an adjunct law professor at MSU Law School, I teach the law to students. As a board member on a nationally recognized judicial education institute, I help to educate other federal and state judges. And finally, as a Michigan Court of Appeals Judge, I write opinions and give speeches before legal groups to explain how I view the law and appellate practice.
Voters will decide who sits on our Supreme Court in November, and candidates must treat the election as a job interview. If a candidate will not explain—in detail—how the candidate’s qualifications and experience match up with what the Supreme Court actually does, then can voters really trust that the candidate is the best person for the job?
I will continue to be transparent about my vision for the Supreme Court through my judicial opinions, my judicial philosophy, and my qualifications and experience. This is a job interview, and I ask that you help me get hired to the Supreme Court on November 3rd!