Meet the MI Supreme Court Candidates: Kyra Harris Bolden
This year, Michigan voters will elect justices to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court. Two of the seven seats will be chosen. They'll go to the candidates with the two highest vote totals. Michigan Radio's Morning Edition is featuring interviews with each of the five candidates running for the court.
Kyra Harris Bolden is a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives. She represents Michigan's 35th District, which includes her hometown of Southfield. She has held that seat since 2018. She spoke with Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou.
Doug Tribou: You're a sitting legislator who is not being term-limited out of office. You're also an attorney. What made you decide to run for the state Supreme Court?
Kyra Harris Bolden: That is the question on the minds of everyone. [laughs] I made the decision in April. And I believe that there is a voice missing on our Michigan Supreme Court. And I believe that I can be a fresh perspective and a new voice that's representative of the people of Michigan.
DT: You've mentioned, in some other interviews, some family history that you had that also was part of your motivation. And I wonder if I could ask you to share that now.
KHB: My great-grandmother shared with me the story of my great-grandfather, and that's in 1939. My great-grandfather, Jesse Lee Bond, was lynched in Tennessee. He was asking for a receipt from a store owner. And a lynch mob ensued and he was beaten and castrated and thrown into the local river.
The coroner deemed it an accidental drowning as a result of that determination. His murderers walked free.
And it wasn't that long ago when government sanctioned injustice was the norm. I like to say that I will be a justice for generations just [because of] my family history of injustice. That's why it's so important for me to protect justice for the future of my child and for all the children of Michigan because the decisions that the Michigan Supreme Court makes, and will make in the future, will absolutely determine the type of Michigan that our children and our children's children live in.
DT: You've been nominated by the Democratic Party as a candidate for the court, but state Supreme Court candidates appear without party affiliation on the ballot. In recent years, it's been fairly unusual for legislators to become justices. How would you separate your work in the Legislature with the nonpartisan nature of the court if you're elected?
KHB: I think I know, maybe more than anyone, how important separation of powers are. As a lawmaker, we want to make sure that we're writing laws as clearly as possible so that our judicial branch can interpret them appropriately.
And I actually think that's an important perspective to bring to the highest court in Michigan, because there is no justice currently sitting that has lawmaking experience. We don't want the judicial branch to make laws. And I can say that definitively as a lawmaker.
DT: And I want to ask you about some of your work on legislation in your first term in office. You helped pass two bills related to criminal justice. One allowed for parole for medically-frail prisoners. The other made it easier for wrongfully imprisoned Michiganders to apply for compensation. How did those pieces of legislation reflect the judicial philosophy you'd apply if you're elected to the court?
KHB: With the medically fragile bill package, it's only for people that are in our prison system that are under dire circumstances, those that are on dialysis or those that are actually in comas. A lot of people don't know. We have those individuals within our prisons because there's no mechanism to parole them.
"[W]e know that some of the most important and critical issues of our time will be heard by the Michigan Supreme Court probably within the next one or two years."Kyra Harris Bolden, State Representative and Michigan Supreme Court Candidate
So what we did was create a mechanism so that people could go to nursing homes. Because if you're in a dire situation, [keeping you in prison] is not corrective behavior. There is no justice by letting people die in our prisons that were in comas and have bedsores. And also, it saves the state money.
The Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act was created because we want to, as a society, to right our wrongs when people are once fully convicted. And what was happening was their cases were being dismissed because the statute actually said the timeline for applying for the fund would be 18 months. However, these cases go through the Court of Claims and you have to file within six months.
The bill that became law cleared up that timeline, and created a mechanism for those cases that had been previously dismissed. Those individuals can now reapply.
And so how that fits into my judicial philosophy is we want to look at situations on a case-by-case basis. We want individuals to feel seen and heard and understood for their unique circumstances.
DT: The political advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood of Michigan has endorsed you in your run for the state Supreme Court. You also appeared at a reproductive rights town hall earlier this year. With the potential for multiple abortion cases to come before the court, how would you pull back to assess the merits of those cases?
KHB: Yeah, very easily. The job of a judge or a justice is to interpret the law as written. You have to look at the law, the constitution, and interpret that. And that is all that I will be doing as a justice.
DT: All of the seven current justices are white. If elected, you would become the first black woman to serve on the state Supreme Court in its history. What would it mean for the state's highest court to have that kind of representation for the first time in almost 200 years?
If elected, Harris Bolden would become the first Black woman to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court.
KHB: It's really important for the highest court in the state of Michigan to reflect the diversity of the state of Michigan, a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives.
I didn't realize, to be quite honest, how important it was until I started running. And I have been in situations where honestly, I've almost cried because people have told me how much the representation means to them, not even just obtaining the position, but me running in the first place.
But I also want my daughter and other children in the state of Michigan to know what they can achieve because it's hard to be what you can't see.
DT: Recognizing that you as a candidate cannot comment on on cases that could come before the court, I would like to ask you more broadly, what legal issues seem especially important to you right now in the state of Michigan?
KHB: I think the most important thing is access to justice. For some people, just being able to get to go before the court to have an opportunity to state their case is incredibly important.
With that said, we know that some of the most important and critical issues of our time will be heard by the Michigan Supreme Court probably within the next one or two years.
So, we know that voting rights and who gets to vote, where they vote, and how they vote will be solely, exclusively determined by the Michigan Supreme Court. Abortion will be determined by the Michigan Supreme Court. We know that environmental issues will be determined by the Michigan Supreme Court. And the Michigan Supreme Court will be the last word.
Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.