Democrat elected Michigan chief justice

Chris Rizo Jan. 8, 2009, 1:38pm

Marilyn Kelly (D)

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) - Members of the Michigan Supreme Court voted 4-3 Thursday to elect Marilyn Kelly to serve as chief justice, ending a decade of Republican leadership on the state's highest court.

Kelly, who has been on the court for 12 years, was backed by fellow Democrats -- Justices Michael Cavanagh and newly-elected Justice Diane Hathaway, and by Republican Justice Elizabeth Weaver.

The court's other two GOP members -- Justices Maura Corrigan and Stephen Markman -- backed one of their own to lead the court: Republican Justice Robert Young Jr.

One of the state's leading political observers told Legal Newsline that Kelly's accession does not mean the court's decisions or collective judicial philosophy will be affected significantly.

"The chief justice cannot decree that certain things happen," said Bill Ballenger, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics. "She is there just by the grace of Weaver's vote."

He added, "She is on a short leach. The last thing she wants to have is have the rancor of the last few years continue on her watch."

Justices elect one of their colleagues to serve as chief justice every two years. The position is primarily administrative in function. Kelly replaces former Chief Justice Cliff Taylor, who was ousted in November by Hathaway.

Kelly was raised in Detroit and received degrees from Eastern Michigan and Middlebury College in Vermont before earning a law degree at Wayne State.

She first was elected to the Supreme Court in 1996 and was re-elected in 2004. Her term expires Jan. 1, 2013. She served on the Michigan Court of Appeals before being elected to the Supreme Court.

"I will be working every day to deserve the title of chief justice - with my fellow Justices, with the Michigan judicial branch, and with the people of Michigan," Kelly said in a statement.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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