Bernstein and Zahra are reelected to the Michigan Supreme Court

By: - November 9, 2022 6:59 am

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein speaks at the Michigan Democratic Party’s nominating convention in Lansing on Aug. 21, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Both of the incumbents have retained their seats on the Michigan Supreme Court. maintaining a narrow 4-3 Democratic-nominated majority.

Political parties nominate candidates, although their political affiliation was not listed on the ballot. The candidates vied for two spots with eight-year terms on the court. 

Justice Richard Bernstein, who was nominated by Democrats and is the court’s first blind justice, picked up just over 33% of the vote. He has been a strong advocate for the disabled, forcing the city of Detroit to fix broken wheelchair lifts on city buses. He also filed a federal suit against the American Bar Association putting an end to its discriminatory practices toward blind students.

Justice Brian Zahra

Brian Zahra, appointed to the court in 2011 by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder, garnered just over 24%. He previously served for 12 years on the Michigan Court of Appeals and for four years on the Wayne County Circuit Court.

Bernstein was ebullient when he spoke with the Michigan Advance just before midnight.

“The thing that I’m most proud of is that this was just a wonderfully positive campaign,” he said. “It was just all positive, all the time. And the idea is that, you know what? You can run a major campaign and be kind. You can run a major campaign and be nice. You can run a major campaign and be uplifting and optimistic.”

State Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield), who was also nominated by the Michigan Democratic Party, missed out on being the first Black woman to serve on the court, picking up approximately 21% of the vote.

Paul Hudson, an attorney nominated by the Michigan Republican Party, had almost 14% while Kerry Morgan, an attorney who was nominated by the Libertarian Party, picked up just over 7%.

While Proposal 2, which expanded voting rights, and Proposal 3, which guarantees the right to abortion, both easily won on Tuesday, Bernstein says details on those two issues, particularly abortion, are sure to be hashed out in the state’s highest court.

“Without taking any position, but just focusing exclusively on procedure, I think that what’s going to have to happen with Proposal 3, is it ultimately has to be interpreted,”said Bernstein. “I think there’s a number of parts that will probably be litigated and the court’s going to have to provide clarity to it. This is standard and common practice for all major constitutional amendments,”

As an example, Bernstein offered up the issue of marijuana. 

“How many times have we dealt with the issue of marijuana?,” he asked rhetorically. “How many times have we dealt with constitutional referendums dealing with marijuana? It’s the same kind of thing. Once a referendum like this passes, it still has to be interpreted by the court.”

Another issue for the court will be who leads it into the next term. Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who was nominated by Democrats, announced in September that she plans to retire from the bench before the end of the year. 

Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, Jan. 14, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who won a second term on Tuesday, will pick McCormack’s replacement, with analysts saying there’s a good possibility that she will appoint Harris Bolden.

Bernstein has made no bones about his sadness to see McCormack depart, saying she was “irreplaceable” and calling it a “devastating loss.” 

However, with his clear win Tuesday, there is the inevitable speculation that perhaps Bernstein could be a leading candidate to become the next chief justice, although he was quick to tamp that down.

“I think there’s a number of things that still have to be decided,” he said. “You never get into the conversation about the Chief until you know the composition of the court. And at this point, I think the composition of the court isn’t known yet.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.