Women lead 4 top Michigan offices as McCormack elected chief justice

By: - January 9, 2019 9:14 pm

Michigan Supreme Court | Susan J. Demas

The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously elected Bridget McCormack to serve a two-year term as chief justice. She succeeds Stephen Markman and becomes only the sixth woman to serve in the post.  

“Michigan’s courts must be accessible to all, engaged with the communities they serve, independent of political pressure and efficient in making the best use of public resources,” said McCormack. “My goal is to build on past achievements while redoubling our efforts to help Michigan’s judiciary become more responsive to the public we serve.”

Bridget McCormack

McCormack was nominated by the Democrats and won her election in 2012. Her ascension as chief justice is notable, as the court currently has a 4-3 split between GOP-nominated and Democratic-nominated justices. The court was divided 5-2 in favor of the GOP last term. Megan Cavanagh, who was nominated by the Dems, knocked off GOP-nominated Kurtis Wilder, who was the court’s only African-American justice.

The new chief justice has forged strong relationships with her GOP-nominated peers, particularly David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement, who angered Republicans by voting to put the anti-gerrymandering Proposal 2 on the 2018 ballot.

Viviano will serve as chief justice pro tem, a newly created post. He will focus on court technology and administrative reforms “to improve service and responsiveness to the public.”

McCormack’s rise makes Michigan history: It’s the first time that the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and chief justice are all women. Michigan is the only state in the nation with women in all four leadership posts: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and now McCormack.

Markman did not run for re-election. There had been speculation that he would resign before now-former Gov. Rick Snyder left office, so the Republican could appoint a conservative jurist. Detroit News editorial page Editor Nolan Finley wrote about his concern about the GOP losing its grip on the high court if Markman stayed on, which he ultimately did.

“I am grateful to former Chief Justice Markman for his leadership,” McCormack said. “He worked diligently for the people who rely on our courts, and we are all thankful for his service.”

The court chooses a chief justice every two years. McCormack’s election occurred on the same calendar date, Jan. 9, that Republican-nominated Mary Stallings Coleman became the first woman in Michigan Supreme Court history to serve as chief justice. That was in 1979.

McCormack, a former University of Michigan Law School professor, outlined several key initiatives:

  • Implementing technology to increase access, improve service, and make the judiciary more efficient, including statewide e-filing, online dispute resolution, and easy-to-use web-based tools to support self-represented litigants.
  • Reform of pretrial practices so that bail decisions guard individual rights, protect public safety and reduce the cost of incarceration.
  • Problem-solving courts that emphasize treatment, rigorous monitoring and community support to help defendants tackle problems such as substance abuse, dramatically reducing repeat offenses and making neighborhoods safer.
Robert Young

McCormack also worked well with former Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., who resigned from the body and mounted a short-lived campaign for the 2018 GOP U.S. Senate nomination.

“While I was the chief justice, Justice McCormack worked very closely with me and no one was more committed to reforming the judiciary to become more service-focused,” said Young. “She is an energetic and inspired leader. I look forward to watching her move Michigan’s judiciary forward to better serve its people.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.