Deadline Now: Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly
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Deadline Now: Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly

Friday, July 13 at 8:30 p.m.

A bipartisan task co-chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly has issued a study that includes recommendations to reform the Court and re-establish public trust. The Honorable Marilyn Kelly joins Jack Lessenberry to discuss reform in the Michigan's high court.

Before taking the bench, Justice Marilyn Kelly was a courtroom attorney for 17 years in Michigan. Her practice was diverse in subject matter and geographic area. In 1988, she was elected to the Michigan Court of Appeals for a six-year term and re-elected in 1994.  She was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court for an eight-year term in 1996, and re-elected in 2004 for an eight-year term which expires January 1, 2013. She served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 2009 to 2011.

Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of "Deadline Now:"

Nine years ago, an American Bar Association study concluded that “the judicial systems of the United States remain unparalleled in their capacity to deliver fair and impartial justice,” but found that “these systems are in great jeopardy.”  That was due in large part, the ABA concluded, “to increased political involvement in the judiciary, (and) diminished public trust and confidence in the justice system.”

If nothing else, that should be a loud wake-up call for all of us. Americans expect to discover and punish the occasional crooked politician. But they expect their courts and judges to be beyond approach. In a secular way, they are the high priests of democracy.

We should be able to count on the intelligence, knowledge and integrity of the men and women who serve on our courts, especially our highest courts, and also on the process by which we select them.

I have known many judges, and nearly all fit that standard. But it makes me uncomfortable that Michigan Supreme Court justices are placed on the ballot by political parties whose main goals are often ideological purity and winning elections.

Justice Kelly is a superb jurist. But she might find it hard to be considered for nomination to Michigan’s highest court if she had an unfamiliar, foreign-sounding name. And in fact, while this report demonstrates that she is superbly competent, she could not be elected to Michigan’s Supreme Court today because she is past seventy years of age. Meanwhile, Michigan still has one federal judge who is ably handling a full case load at the age of eighty-eight.

What bothers me even more is that under Michigan law, shadowy special interest groups can and do spend millions to try and influence the outcomes of high court races without even identifying where the money they are spending comes from.

These are all flaws in the system we urgently need to remedy, as soon as possible. Democracy can survive crises and depressions and wars. But I am not sure that it can long endure if our state courts are centers for the worst and most partisan justice money can buy.