McCormack speaks on tenure, student involvement in democracy


GVL / Josh Alburtus

Josh Alburtus, News Editor

The Michigan Press Association (MPA) had outgoing Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack as the keynote speaker for its 2022 Convention in Lansing on Oct. 13.

Retiring six years before the end of her term, McCormack has overseen increasingly political decisions including challenges from citizens and government officials to multiple pivotal ballot proposals put before voters statewide in recent years.

Most recently, McCormack joined the Court’s majority in ordering state entities to add to the November ballot a proposal that had already garnered enough signatures to qualify and, if passed, would codify abortion rights into the state constitution proposal.

“The dispute there was whether there were problems with the text of the ballot initiative itself such that it shouldn’t be put to the voters and the Court agreed with the challengers that it should be put on the ballot we directed the Board of Canvassers to put it on the ballot and it’s on the ballot,” McCormack said.

The case, McCormack said, challenged both the strength of governmental systems as well as the mandate of the Court.

“Of course, if there are not enough signatures, if the signatures don’t conform, hopefully, the Board of Canvassers takes care of that – that’s what they’re there for,” McCormack said. “It is certainly the case that the Court feels like it’s getting pulled into more of these disputes than any of the justices would prefer.”

Fights like these, McCormack said, are ones foreign to the Court and force them into situations that run contradictory to their mandate as judicial arbiters rather than political operatives.

“It does feel a little bit like a sign of the times that the Court is pulled into disputes that we never were pulled into before,” McCormack said. “It is, of course, the case that there are historical examples of challenges to ballot initiatives – sometimes to the substance, sometimes to the form – and that those have occasionally come to the Court over time. But certainly, in the last few years, it feels like the Court is being pulled in to play a much bigger role than I think any of us wish we had to play in what are political decisions.”

Such has been a view among many Americans that has rocked nationwide faith in judicial independence. Recent moves including the Supreme Court’s decision in June to rescind the nationwide right to abortion have led to record-low faith in the judiciary.

Such perceived partisanship and allegiance to party, McCormack said, must be repudiated in order to restore confidence.

“So, (voters) might want to think more carefully about not just voting for the ones you think have the same designation as the outcome of the election you want, but the ones you think are going to actually do the job they were elected to do – which sometimes means something that the party that put (the justice) in office doesn’t like,” McCormack said.

When announcing her resignation from the seat earlier this year, McCormack made it a point to assert that it was time for a new generation of leadership on the Court.

Following the convention, McCormack reiterated this point, telling the Lanthorn that such was necessary for a more prosperous future.

“I think it’s important to let younger, more diverse leaders take over,” McCormack said. “I think that’s going to help us all.”

McCormack urged college-aged voters like those at Grand Valley State University to use their votes and voices to usher in policy and change correspondent with the values of the next generation.

“If the students showed up in the numbers that my aged people do, you guys could run the table,” McCormack said.