Michigan voters will elect two justices to the state Supreme Court in November. Brock Swartzle is one of the seven candidates.
Candidate: Brock Swartzle
Current Position: Michigan Court of Appeals judge, appointed in 2017
Nominated by: Republican Party*
*All judicial candidates in Michigan are listed as nonpartisan on the ballot.
As the election approaches, the COVID-19 pandemic has put our system of branches of government into the spotlight. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been exerting executive powers. Some members of the Legislature are questioning those moves. And then there have been legal challenges to Whitmer's use of those powers.
In an interview with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition, Brock Swartzle did not comment on any specific cases, but did describe his view of the courts' role in maintaining the separation of powers.
"The legislature enacts the laws. The executive carries them out. And the judiciary makes sure that the statutory enactments are constitutional, that they don't conflict with each other," Swartzle said. "And then when we're considering what the executive branch may be doing, making sure that the executive branch doesn't move into the legislative arena, for example, or doesn't move into the judiciary arena."
Staying "blind" to parties in a case
Swartzle was appointed to his current position at the Court of Appeals by former Governor Rick Synder. When he sworn in, he vowed to be blind to the parties in any case.
He also spoke about his lifelong friend who's now a police precinct commander before addressing the family and friends of first responders, saying, “I also intend to be a judge who never forgets for a single second the sacrifices of those who put their lives at risk to keep the rest of us safe and secure."
With the U.S. in the midst of a national debate about the nature of policing, how would Swartzle go about being blind to both parties in a case that involves those issues?
"[Detroit Police] Commander [Eric] Decker. He's been my best friend since the first day of kindergarten. And so, you know, I wanted to recognize that he and his fellow police officers are putting their lives on the line," Swartzle told Michigan Radio. "I think it's a common sense of gratitude that we should show to the first responders. And I'll tell you what, my buddy, and all the other good law enforcement people I know, they're the ones who are most upset by the bad apple.
"A good judge has to be blind to the features of the parties that are irrelevant to the case," he continued. "So, if you have an incidence where someone is claiming that the police overstepped their bounds and may have violated somebodies constitutional rights, I think you look at that and rule solely on that, not any kind of outside influences."
On key legal issues for Michigan
Asked about other current legal issues he considers important to Michigan right now, Swartzle cited Rafaeli v. Oakland County, calling it "hugely important." The state Supreme Court ruled on the case in July
"That decision essentially said that when a local authority has a foreclosure on a home and they auction it off, that the local authority cannot keep excess proceeds over whatever it was owed by the homeowners. That had been going on a long time and it was an abuse by local governments. And our Supreme Court put an end to that abuse."
Weighing experiences, diversity
All of the justices currently on the Supreme Court are white. Swartzle is one of six white candidates this year. He says voters should consider the full variety of candidates' life experiences.
"Voters need to take a look at the backgrounds of the candidates," he said. "I grew up in a small rural town. I went to community college. There are certain experiences that we have that I think bring value to the court. And it's up to the voters to make sure that they go through and they see, which candidates best exemplify the experience that that voter would like to see on the court."
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.