The wisdom of crowds

If anything was made clear by a report on how voters feel about the Michigan Supreme Court and its role, it was that jurisprudence is a little like art. Even if you can’t define it, you know what you like.

the polling company inc., on behalf of The Federalist Society, polled 500 likely voters in Michigan during the first week of October. Pollsters asked respondents about their knowledge of the Michigan Supreme Court, its rulings and different forms of jurisprudence, said the polling company CEO Kellyanne Conway in an Oct. 20 conference call.

Astonishingly, participants were comfortable with admitting they don’t know much about the Court — 36 percent said they were just a little bit familiar with the Court and 20 percent admitted to being “not at all” familiar. Five percent said they were very familiar and 38 percent said they were somewhat so.

But they know they don’t like the Court. Just 1 percent of participants said the Court’s performance is excellent, and 22 percent said performance was “good.” Forty-seven percent said the Court’s performance is “fair” and 8 percent said poor. Those who were familiar with the court were even more critical, with 32 percent of them calling the justices’ performance excellent or good, and 63 percent judging them as fair and poor.

“This is a real indictment of the judiciary,” Conway said. “To know about the Court was to be not necessarily pleased with the Court.”

The voters might have forgotten that they have indeed chosen those justices that they’re not too happy with, and they want to keep on selecting them.

According to the survey results, 72 percent of respondents said that Michigan voters should continue to have the greatest input on who is selected to serve as a Justice on the Court. Nine percent said that power should rest with the legislature, 7 percent said the Governor should appoint justices and 6 percent said lawyers should select them.

And once the justices get to the Hall of Justice, they should leave their personal viewpoints at the courtroom door, responded 74 percent of the likely voters.

The respondents indicated that they don’t necessarily believe that our justices have exercised judicial restraint (though most of them admitted they didn’t know what that meant – 67 percent said that they didn’t know what judicial activism is, and 63 percent said the concept of judicial restraint was new to them).

But when it came to voter opinions about Court opinions since 2008, when the majority of court shifted away from the conservative leanings of former Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, voters tended to think the Court has made some poor decisions in overturning precedent.

Pollsters described the McCormick v. Carrier case this way:

When the Michigan State Legislature passed a no-fault automobile insurance law, they agreed that the only people who could sue for non-economic, “pain and suffering” damages were people who sustained serious impediments of a bodily function. The Michigan Supreme Court upheld this in 2004. However, this summer, after a new judge was elected and the ideological composition of the court changed, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Court’s six-year-old decision and ruled that people who have only sustained temporary impairments are able to sue in order to receive pain-and-suffering damages.

Fifty-five percent of the participants said that the decision was a bad one, and 35 percent deemed it a good decision.

Pollsters asked about the impact of the Court’s recent plaintiff-friendly opinions, and two in three respondents said that they are harmful to the state economy, and have created an environment in which it’s easy for lawyers to make money by filing lawsuits on behalf of their clients.