Advance Notice: Briefs

Mich. solicitor general will be first Arab-American woman to argue before SCOTUS

By: - October 4, 2021 2:45 pm

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud at the Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

The U.S. Supreme Court, which begins its term this week, will hear arguments from Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, the first Arab-American Muslim woman to do so. Hammoud will be representing the state of Michigan in Brown v. Davenport on Tuesday.  

The case will help to spell out when a violation of a defendant’s rights are a harmless error or not and provide guidance as to whether that can be decided by federal or state judges. 

Hammoud said in a press release Monday that arguing before the court will be the “highlight” of her career and that she is “deeply honored” to represent the state in the case. 

“I am passionate about the position the State is asserting — a position that ensures that federal judges, when reviewing a habeas corpus petition, give appropriate respect and deference to our state-court decisions,” Hammoud said. “And here, that means respect and deference, in accordance with congressional intent and Supreme Court precedent, to the eleven Michigan judges who adjudicated Davenport’s case.” 

Hammoud became the youngest and first Arab-American Muslim solicitor general in the United States when she was appointed in 2019 by Attorney General Dana Nessel. She previously served as the lead attorney in Wayne County.

Nessel said she was “incredibly proud” to have Hammoud argue the case, calling her “an effective advocate for the People of Michigan.”

Hammoud will argue for a two-step approach as a proper test to prove federal habeas corpus while reviewing constitutional errors to see if harm was committed in the process too. Hammoud will argue that in habeas corpus review by a federal judge, they must take into account the decision of the state-level court. 

The argument spurred from the conviction of Ervine Davenport for the murder of Annette Whiter in 2007 in the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court when at his trial, Davenport was shackled for reasons that were not disclosed in the record. The state admitted the shackling was a constitutional error, but argued it was a harmless one since he admitted to strangling Whiter in his car and boasted about killing her.

The court ruled that the shackling was a harmless error, a ruling that Davenport then filed a petition against, citing habeas corpus in the federal district court. The federal district court upheld the state court decision. However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals repealed the federal district court’s decision to oppose habeas corpus, a decision that led to the state creating a petition claiming the Sixth Court did not use the correct test for habeas corpus. 

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.