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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can A Seat on Our High Court Be Purchased?

Plaintiffs' Lawyer Richard Bernstein
This Sunday's NYT carried an article about a well-funded right-wing challenge to three justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court.  Despite surviving the retention election [where a justice essentially runs against herself] all three targeted Tennessee jurists saw their margin of electoral victory eroded by the well-orchestrated conservative campaign.

The sins of the jurists?  Appointing a Democratic Attorney General in 2006 [Tennessee has not gone Republican in a presidential election in decades, and that includes Tennessean Al Gore in the 2000 election]; being "soft-on-crime"; and being anti-business.  Still, there was a general feel of an overall outright political attack on the jurists in the election last week based on their voting record in key cases.

Usually, High Court justices come under fire for single issues.  In 2010, for example, all the justices on Iowa's Supreme Court that voted one year earlier to approve same-sex marriages were ousted in the non-partisan Iowa ballot.  The same thing happened in California to three High Court jurists during the death penalty debate: none of the pro-death penalty justices were retained.

Nowadays, a jurist's vote to approve same-sex marriage is common place; happens all the time, as routinely reported in this law blog.

Here in Michigan, the personal injury plaintiff's bar has been accused of attempting to buy a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court for the past quarter Century.  Our High Court has held onto a precarious 4-3 "conservative" majority for that decades-long stretch and then some.  This so-called conservative majority is crucial in cases that decide not only personal injury issues, but also constitutional issues relating to criminal defense, law enforcement, privacy and business.

Now, personal injury lawyer Richard Bernstein recently announced he is seeking a nomination from the Michigan Democratic Party for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court.  In November, two Governor Snyder appointees are facing re-election, and a third seat is opening-up via the retirement of Justice Michael F. Cavanaugh.

Aside from the relative oddity of a lawyer running for a seat on the High Court [as opposed to a sitting judge] there is the fact that Bernstein is the wealthy scion of personal injury luminary Sam Bernstein.  Also, we take note that the Democrats declined to nominate Bernstein in his bid to be the Democratic candidate for Michigan Attorney General in 2010.

While we here at the Law Blogger realize that one justice cannot re-write our jurisprudence, we do have to wonder about the propriety of electing a lawyer so viscerally aligned with a specific area within the law: i.e. prosecuting plaintiffs' personal injury tort suits.

Our judicial system does depend on a jurist's neutrality in all cases.  So let's stay away from the well-funded single-issue juggernauts.

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