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Supreme Court candidates discuss access, fairness during forums

Michigan Supreme Court
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Candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court are outlining what they feel are the biggest threats facing the judiciary.

They discussed their views during a forum hosted this week by the League of Women Voters of Michigan and the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan.

Several times, candidates laid out their concerns that judges may be putting too much of their own beliefs into decisions.

Attorney Paul Hudson said he feels courts are in danger of becoming too politicized.

“I think the courts are at a bit of a crossroads right now. The public needs to trust that their judges are truly neutral, non-partisan umpires and not political warriors in the game,” he said.

The answer came during questioning over perceived threats to the legal system. Another question dealt with whether the candidates saw themselves as politicians.

Lawyer Kerry Lee Morgan said he doesn’t think any judge would admit to being a politician.

“But, of course, we can judge whether or not courts and judges are politicians by reading their opinions and comparing them to the actual text of the statute or the actual text of the Constitution.”

Though it appears on the ballot as a non-partisan race, each candidate running got there through a party nominating convention.

Michigan Libertarians chose Morgan as their party’s endorsed candidate. The Michigan Republican Party endorsed Hudson along with incumbent Justice Brian Zahra earlier this year.

During the forum, which took place over Zoom, Zahra also stressed the need for judges to remain unbiased.

“There is an injustice that results when judges leave their lane, when judges exceed their authority, when judges say more than what the law is. When judges actually go beyond that and say what the law ought to be,” he said.

Zahra is one of two incumbents running for re-election in the five-candidate field. The other is Democratic Party -endorsed Richard Bernstein.

Both Bernstein and Zahra found common ground in their discussions over making the legal system more accessible. Zahra highlighted his work with the Michigan Justice For All Commission.

Meanwhile Bernstein, also the first blind person to sit on the Michigan Supreme Court, echoed calls to make the justice system more equitable.

“It’s just making sure that folks have a voice and making sure that they have a chance to be heard and I think that is more critical now than ever,” Bernstein said. “When someone is treated inappropriately or abused, they should have that ability to have access to legal representation that the court system is open and available to them.”

Access and fairness also came up as major themes for another candidate with Democratic support.

State Representative Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield) mentioned that she first decided to pursue law after finding out her great-grandfather was lynched in Tennessee. She said his attackers never faced legal consequences.

When asked, Bolden named access to justice and trust as two of the biggest obstacles facing the courts.

“People need to see themselves reflected in the court. And people need to be seen and heard for their unique circumstances and their unique cases and make sure that cases are being seen on a case-by-case basis with an unbiased lens,” Bolden said.

The candidates are vying for two seats.