The bottom of the ballot is often ignored. That’s where the non-partisan races are located and includes candidates running for Michigan Supreme Court. Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad recently reviewed a radio ad being aired on behalf of two of the candidates running for the three open seats.
A radio ad sponsored by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce makes this statement:
“Viviano and Zahra use common sense on Michigan’s Supreme Court. They’re rule-of-law judges.”
That statement colors the rest of the ad.
The Truth Squad finds “rule of law” is a term used by judges who say their role is to interpret the law as written, not to make law. That’s what makes this other claim in the ad seem inconsistent.
“And Viviano and Zahra have made it illegal for sexual predators to use computers to help them commit sexual abuse.”
“Judges don’t make things legal or illegal. The laws are made by the Legislature," noted David Zeman, editor of the Truth Squad. He says the justices rule on whether laws passed by the Legislature are constitutional.
“And, their duty is to apply the law to the facts at hand as they say they do in this very same commercial. So, they don’t make using a computer in the course of committing a sexual attack a crime. So, it’s a little bit baffling that they would say that, because these judges know better than that,” Zeman said.
With that in mind, here’s another statement from the ad that seems out of place for someone running for a seat on the Supreme Court.
“Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano have consistently prioritized the rights of crime victims by upholding tough sentences for violent offenders and sexual abusers.”
Zeman says these guys are not running for a positions as a trial court judge, they’re running for the state’s highest court.
“Judges are not there to throw the books at people who are convicted of a violent crime, a terrible crime. What they’re there to do is to make sure that the government follows the rules in convicting that person,” Zeman said.
The final statement the Truth Squad questioned was this:
“They’re not influenced by special interests.”
That might be true. But Zeman explained they do get campaign donations and support.
“Large donations from one influential person after another: from the DeVoses, from the Taubmans, from Matty Moroun, the Ambassador Bridge owner. They have large donations from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. This very ad is sponsored by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce," Zeman said.
Zeman says it's hard to determine if campaign donations and other support have influenced sitting Supreme Court justices, but it's a concern (see this report).
"I can guarantee you that these people are donating to them not because of their stands on how tough they are against sexual predators, but they’re donating to them because they think that they’re going to be helpful to their interests in all of the business and civil litigation that comes before the Michigan Supreme Court,” Zeman said.
Viviano and Zahra are not alone. All eight candidates for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court receive money for their candidacies. A lot of money. Candidates already have reported raising more than $2 million. We won’t know the total amount until after the elections.
And in some cases we won’t know the names of donors, so it will be difficult to tell if any of the sitting justices are influenced by special interests.
The Truth Squad ruled this ad is pandering and gave it a “foul.”