It’s already beginning …

We’re still 18 months away from the next time we select Michigan Supreme Court justices but a quick visit to the Michigan Democratic Party’s Web site might convince you that Election Day was just around the corner.

Justice Robert Young is drawing early re-election heat

Justice Robert Young is drawing early re-election heat

Having dispatched Cliff Taylor in last November’s contest with Justice Diane Hathaway’s election to the high court, the Democrats are already putting the smack on Justice Robert Young, who is up for re-election in 2010.

From the Dem’s home page this morning:

“Justice Robert Young: Enemy of the People”

“Young: Doing Good Not Judges’ Role”

“Law Day 2009: Justice Young Erodes Vital Constitutional Right – Young Undermines Right to Trial By Jury”

“Justice Young Calls Plaintiffs, Justice Weaver Liars”

Wow! At this rate, by October 2010, the Dems may be blaming Young for earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, tsunamis and possible asteroid strikes.

Seriously, this sort of partisan ballyhoo is to be expected but what’s noteworthy is the amount of it, and so early in the game, too.

All of this underscores just how important the Dems think it is to secure another reliable seat on the Michigan Supreme Court. The current lineup, by political party, has Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly, and Justices Michael Cavanagh and Diane Hathaway in the Democratic corner, and Justices Young, Maura Corrigan and Stephen Markman in the Republican camp.

Justice Elizabeth Weaver, a Republican, has been critical of the other Republican justices and has sided with the Democrats on some issues. Weaver is also up for re-election in 2010. There’s been talk that the Republicans may not nominate her and that she might run as an independent.

With that in mind, the Democrats are likely thinking that it’s critical to deliver a knock-out punch to Young in 2010 to achieve a solid 4-3 majority on the court.

The Democrats are getting some early help in other quarters.

First, some context: The State Bar of Michigan’s Consumer Law Section recently released a study, which concluded that Michigan Supreme Court decisions have left the Michigan Consumer Protection Act “toothless.”

The study examined MSC opinions dealing with the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and found that, over the years, the court has exempted from the act most of the businesses that generate most of the consumers’ complaints.

It didn’t take long for the Detroit Free Press to paint some faces on the study’s statistical analysis and finger who the Freep’s editorial board thought was the main culprit. From last Friday’s editorial page:

In two landmark cases in 1999 and 2007, the Republican state Supreme Court majority installed by Gov. John Engler effectively gutted the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, ruling that the intent behind the law was to exempt nearly three-quarters of the businesses that generate the most consumer complaints.

Both rulings, authored by Justice Robert Young Jr., contravened 23 years of aggressive enforcement in which the attorney general and consumer advocates relied on the MCPA to hold unscrupulous businesses accountable for deceptive and unfair practices.

It looks like Young is in for a long, hard campaign.

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Who do they like? Dailies weigh in with MSC endorsements

With two weeks to go before the election, editorial boards at some of the state’s daily newspapers are weighing in on the Michigan Supreme Court race.

As one might expect, the Detroit News is solidly in Chief Justice Clifford Taylor’s corner:

“Taylor should be retained on the court.

“Taylor will relinquish the chief justiceship next year, as is the court’s custom, but he has been careful with the public’s money as chief justice and sought reasonable ways to contain costs. He led the justices and appellate judges in relinquishing their cars. In a time of tight economic resources, he asked the State Court Administrative Office, which through the Supreme Court has oversight responsibilities for all state courts, to examine whether the number and jurisdictions of some lower court judges should be reallocated or reconsidered. It was the right kind of question for the court to be asking.

“The chief justice is one of a group of jurists who have in recent years changed the direction of the court – mostly for the better. Individual rulings can always be questioned, but the overall movement of the court has been to return to the concept that liability must have a relationship to fault.”

Less expected was the Detroit Free Press‘ decidedly lukewarm endorsement of the chief justice.

The Free Press noted Taylor’s aversion to courts making public policy from the bench and his view “that courts have narrow but important roles. What a statute says is what it says. What the Constitution says is what it says.”

Here’s the Free Press’ editorial rejoinder:

“That mission may sound good to those who agree with Taylor that courts in Michigan had gone too far for too long. But it’s an agenda nonetheless. It’s judging cases through the prism of a specific, long-term policy goal.

“Even worse, Taylor — the only justice up for election this year — and his conservative colleagues have taken their philosophy far beyond mere textual readings of the law or the Constitution to a point where they are, in fact, making policy as much as any of the former justices they’ve criticized.”

“Taylor is enough of a problem on the high court to warrant endorsing nearly anyone as an alternative.”

But there’s an issue, according to the Freep:

“Unfortunately, state Democrats have chosen Wayne County Circuit Judge Diane Hathaway as their candidate. Despite a solid record on the Circuit Court, Hathaway, 54, demonstrates no better grasp of the role of high court justice than Taylor, and can’t even articulate a judicial philosophy that she’d bring to the court. …

“What Hathaway says about how she would simply ‘follow the law’ is not unlike what Taylor says about his philosophy. But in an interview with the Free Press editorial board, Hathaway could not say why she would arrive at different decisions from Taylor, only that she would. She would likely be out of her depth on the high court, and not much more than a reliable, but unexplained, vote that’s the opposite of Taylor’s. That’s not reason enough to put her there.”

The Detroit Free Press concluded by scolding Hathaway’s backers:

“It’s one thing for Democrats, liberals and trial lawyers to complain about the state Supreme Court. It was quite another, apparently, for them to find a credible candidate to challenge its chief justice this year.

“Justice CLIFFORD TAYLOR should be retained Nov. 4 on the Michigan Supreme Court, but voters really deserved a better choice.”

The Bay City Times views the high court election as a choice between two extremes:

“On the conservative end, we have Chief Justice Clifford Taylor. On the liberal side, we have Diane Hathaway, Wayne County Circuit Court judge for 16 years.
Both are seasoned jurists, yet each would bring a very different philosophy to Michigan’s highest court. …

“Do you throw out one extreme for the other? Perhaps. But Hathaway hasn’t made a compelling case for such drastic action in this campaign.”

The Oakland Press opined that:

“It is certainly true that Michigan’s court has a reputation as conservative, but whether such terms as liberal or conservative are helpful in discussing a judicial contest is highly debatable. It seems that impartiality would be a better standard. Why is the plain and simple wording of the law subject to such philosophical interpretations?”

The Oakland Press’ editorial board said that once one puts the philosophical debate aside, what’s left is court administration:

“On this score, [Taylor’s] record is impressive.

“Taylor says that for the last 10 years, the state’s Supreme Court has delivered certainty, clarity and stability in the law. He says this has resulted in a dramatic drop in the filing of frivolous lawsuits throughout the Michigan state court system. In fact, he says the caseload has dropped so much that appellate judicial vacancies should not be filled in areas where court filings are down.

“He also asked all judges receiving a state car as a result of their compensation package to return it to the state for auction, resulting in a savings of more than $420,000.

“He has supported jury reform, backing proposals aimed at giving jurors more information and helping them render fair, impartial verdicts. He also would allow jurors to take notes and to ask proper questions of witnesses. …

“Hathaway is a well-qualified candidate, but on an objective basis, there is no compelling reason for voters to make a change.”

But the Lansing State Journal had no problem urging a change of personnel:

“The most important vote a Michigan resident can cast this fall is to oust Chief Justice Clifford Taylor from the Michigan Supreme Court.

“The direct beneficiary of this decision will be Diane Hathaway, the Democratic nominee. The LSJ endorses Hathaway’s candidacy as a way to protect the rights of Michigan residents against the assaults of the Taylor-led court.

“John Engler put Taylor on the Supreme Court. And huge amounts of money from business interests with business before the high court have kept him there.

“While there, Taylor and his political allies on the court have again and again put the people’s interests last.”