Lower judges fear Michigan SC split could color courts partisan

Legal News Line Aug. 14, 2007, 7:31am

Michigan Supreme Court

LANSING -- The ongoing 4-3 split for Michigan Supreme Court decisions is apparently starting to become an embarrassment for the rest of the state's judiciary. Last Friday the head of Michigan's Court of Appealssaid he fears that if such contentious verdicts continue, the public will begin to view the courts as driven by issues of politics, not law. Judge William Whitbeck said he fears Michigan Supreme Court decisions are following predictable partisan lines. "It seems to me that you can look at voting patterns and say folks are voting by block ... that tends to follow partisan lines," Whitbeck told the AP Friday. Most Michigan SC decisions are split 4-3 between the conservative majority and a minority of two liberals plus one disaffected Republican, Justice Elizabeth Weaver. Weaver has authored many minority dissents in which she lambasts her former colleagues. Most recently, she attacked the four-Justice majority in a dissent over whether to release a report on state judicial resources, LNL reported. She referred to their actions on that case as "disorderly, unprofessional and unfair." A few days earlier she authored a dissent over the commercial use of part of Lake Michigan containing what the majority opinion referred to as "bleak, apocalyptic visions," LNL reported. In it she called the majority's ruling "a tragic day for Michigan." But Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor disagrees with the partisan charge. "Most of the 4-3 decisions are on questions that I don't think the (political) parties have very well-formed positions on," Taylor told the AP. Whitbeck noted that in high-profile 4-3 cases, Republican-appointee Taylor votes with fellow Republicans Robert Young Jr., Maura Corrigan and Stephen Markman. Weaver votes with Democrat-appointees Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanaugh.

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