Michigan voters will elect two justices to the state Supreme Court in November. Bridget Mary McCormack is one of the seven candidates.
Candidate: Bridget Mary McCormack
Current Position: Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court
Nominated by: Democratic Party*
*All judicial candidates in Michigan are listed as nonpartisan on the ballot.
Bridget Mary McCormack was first elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2012. Prior to her tenure, McCormack was a professor and associate dean at Michigan Law, the law school at the University of Michigan.
Asked about the most significant decisions the court has issued during her eight-year term, McCormack mentioned a 2014 ruling.
"A majority of the court, in an opinion I authored, held as unconstitutional a longstanding Michigan court-invented doctrine called the 'one-parent doctrine,' which permitted courts in child protection cases to remove children when a co-parent was accused of abuse or neglect, even if there were no allegations against the [other] parent," McCormack told Michigan Radio. "We held that unconstitutional. And that was a really important decision that changed the way child welfare cases are adjudicated across the state."
In 2018, a ruling by the court allowed a proposal to end gerrymandering by creating a redistricting commission to go to the statewide ballot. It later passed. McCormack sees that as another of the most significant rulings during her time on the bench.
A diverse state, but not a diverse court
The seven current members of the court are white and six of the seven candidates, including McCormack, are white.
"I think all of the courts of the state would benefit from more diversity, including the Supreme Court," McCormack said. "I don't know what exactly I can do about that on the Supreme Court right now, but I do believe that the bench and ... the court staff should really reflect our communities because I think we make better decisions when we have more diversity among the folks who are making those decisions and because I think it increases public confidence in the court's decisions."
How do the justices incorporate different perspectives that aren't reflected on the court?
"In the decision-making function, we are really deciding legal questions, and diversity in our backgrounds on the Supreme Court, I have found to be incredibly helpful," she said. "Our problem-solving courts in Michigan are now available to everybody statewide: drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans treatment courts, and have proven to be a very successful way to decrease recidivism, increase employment, increase stability in communities. That kind of work can really make more of a difference in communities across the state, maybe than any particular decision we make."
Finding common ground
Judges' party affiliations are not listed on the ballot, but there is currently a 4-3 conservative majority on the court. As one of the Democratic Party's nominees, McCormack is in the minority, but her peers selected her as chief justice. The court also often delivers unanimous opinions. McCormack sees that consensus-building as part of the system.
"We serve as nonpartisan judges. That's critical to the legitimacy of what the court does. And even when there are opinions that are not unanimous, if you look at how they break down, they don't break down along predictable lines case after case," she said. "That's because everybody takes an oath as a judge. That's an oath to the constitutions and to the law, not to a particular interest group or interest groups.
But like all elected officials, judges still face the element of politics in the process of getting to the court, and McCormack, like other candidates, lists a range of endorsements from across the political spectrum on her campaign website.
"I know that people like to think about judges, and maybe in particular, justices, in partisan terms, but they probably will all be disappointed one time or another because at the end of the day, the judge's job is to make decisions that might be unpopular. And that sometimes means being willing to lose friends and lose elections."
Lauren Talley contributed to this story.
Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview at the top of the page.