MSC’s Weaver stumps for judicial election reform

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver is touting a five-point plan to reform the judicial election/selection process, according to Cathy Nelson Price, reporting in The Midland Daily News.

Weaver told the Midland Area League of Women Voters recently that reforms are needed to make it harder to form “power blocs” of MSC justices. Her plan includes:

1) Electing judges by district;

2) Ending the governor’s unchecked appointment power by implementing Senate confirmation of nominees;

3) Ending a lack of rotation in office by limiting justices to one eight or 16-year term, eliminating incumbency;

4) Disallowing judicial nominations by political parties;

5) Tightening campaign finance reporting requirements and implementing public financing requirements for Supreme Court elections.

Weaver drew League members’ attention to two legislative reform efforts:

House Joint Resolution TT, introduced Jan. 26, would amend the Michigan constitution to “provide for election districts … that are drawn on county lines and are nearly as possible of equal proportion as provided by law. The terms of office shall be eight years and not more than two terms of office shall expire at the same time.”

Senate Bill No. 745, introduced Aug. 19, 2009, would require that a Supreme Court justice be “a registered and qualified elector of the Supreme Court district he or she seeks to represent.” It also specifies that the state would be divided into seven Supreme Court Districts, with each district electing one justice, and that districts be redrawn as necessary according to federal decennial census data.

Weaver was coy about her own plans for running for a final term this year

but suggested that fresh faces on the bench would benefit the electorate.

“Some people can’t handle power, others can ad infinitum,” she said. “It’s a rarity that incumbents aren’t arrogant.”

Weaver, in the past, has received the Republican Party’s nomination as a MSC candidate. But she’s broken ranks with other GOP-backed justices: former Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, who lost a 2008 re-election bid, and current Justices Maura Corrigan, Robert Young and Stephen Markman.

So, what’s ahead for Weaver?

She could decide to retire. She threatened this once before in January 2005, in an apparent attempt to spur judicial election/selection reform. She backed off a few months later. She explained that “it has become clear that it is in my role as a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court that I can most effectively help to bring these important issues to the attention of the people of Michigan for their consideration and action.” Five years later, she’s still pushing for reform, and in these days of voter discontent, reform resonates as a campaign theme.

She could seek the Republican Party’s nomination. But consider that she’s become an unreliable ally for many causes the GOP holds near and dear to its political heart. Tellingly, her effort to drum up party support last fall at the Michigan Republican Party’s leadership conference fell flat. See, The Michigan Lawyer, GOP weather report: A bit chilly for MSC’s Weaver

She could run as an independent. For quite some time now, she has been positioning herself as a maverick. She’s the only justice who maintains a privately funded website. She’s had it for years. She uses it to air her views on campaign and election reform. The site publicizes her squabbles with other members of the court. And, a year and a half after the fact, the site still features a prominent statement praising the election of Democrat-backed Diane M. Hathaway (“a fair and independent judge”) to the MSC.

Weaver running as an independent? Why not?

There’s precedent. Former Justice Charles L. Levin successfully did it three times.

There’s practicality. A rapprochement with the Republicans is unlikely.

And, there’s positioning. Weaver has been speaking the language of a populist for years.