Michigan Supreme Court Justice -- Partial Term

Vote for one candidate to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court through January 1, 2019.

Click a candidate icon to find more information about the candidate. To compare two candidates, click the "compare" button. To start over, click a candidate icon.

  • Candidate picture

    Joan Larsen

  • Candidate picture

    Kerry L. Morgan

  • Candidate picture

    Deborah Thomas

Social Media

Biographical Information

What is the primary role of the state Supreme Court? In what ways, if any, has the court failed to exercise its authority appropriately over the last decade? In what ways has it changed the way it exercises its authority?

What are the most serious problems facing Michigan courts, and what should the state Supreme Court do to address them?

Which two or three decisions rendered by the state Supreme Court in the last decade have had the greatest impact on Michigan, for good or ill?

How would you decide when to overrule a previous state Supreme Court decision? Identify at least one instance in which you believe the state Supreme Court appropriately or inappropriately overruled one of its previous decisions.

Has the proliferation of third-party campaign spending compromised the impartiality of Michigan judges? Or is the charge that judicial candidates are too beholden to campaign donors exaggerated? What steps, if any, should the state Supreme Court take to reassure the public that Michigan judges are impartial?

What changes in the process by which justices are selected (or in the rules regarding the financing of state Supreme Court elections) would improve either the judicial process or public perceptions of that process?

Is Michigan’s current system of enforcing ethical conduct on the part of its lawyers working satisfactorily? If not, what should the state Supreme Court do to improve it?

Is Michigan’s current system of enforcing ethical conduct on the part of its judges working satisfactorily? If not, what should the state Supreme Court do to improve it?

Are judicial resources allocated fairly in Michigan? What can state Supreme Court justices do to promote a more efficient and/or equitable distribution of judicial resources?

Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony? Explain.

Have you ever filed for personal bankruptcy? Explain.

City of residence Scio Township, MI
Age 48
Military service Not applicable
Degrees earned B.A., with Highest Honors, University of Northern Iowa; J.D., magna cum laude, Northwestern University School of Law
Vehicles owned Ford Explorer
Incumbent? true
Race/ethnicity Caucasian
Campaign Website
Current occupation Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court
Other relevant professional experience Faculty member and Special Counsel to the Dean, University of Michigan Law School; Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice; Associate Attorney, Sidley Austin; Clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court; Clerk to Judge David B. Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Current or previous elected office Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, October 2015 to present (Appointed)
As the court of last review in the state, the Supreme Court decides cases of jurisprudential significance that affect the citizens as a whole. It also oversees the administration of the state court system. In the past, the Court had a reputation for allowing partisanship to influence its decision-making. Today, our Court recognizes the limited role of the judiciary in our constitutional framework—to apply the law as enacted by the Legislature, while ensuring that the government stays within its constitutional boundaries. The current Justices, myself included, have made a concerted effort to inculcate an atmosphere of collegiality and respect and to be positive leaders for the bench and bar.
One challenge is how to handle non-violent criminal offenders with special characteristics. Michigan has been at the forefront of creating problem-solving courts for such offenders, including Veterans Treatment Court, Drug Court, and Mental Health Court. The result has been reduced recidivism and unemployment, savings to taxpayers, and restoration of families and communities. As the Supreme Court’s liaison to the problem-solving courts, I am proud of the way we have supported and encouraged these courts. We need to continue to promote the growth of the courts and to support the individuals who make them work.
One significant decision is People v Lockridge, 498 Mich 358 (2015), in which the Court, following U.S. Supreme Court precedent, held that Michigan’s sentencing guidelines scheme was constitutionally deficient. The Court continues to work through important sentencing issues raised by that decision. Another is In re Complaint of Rovas, 482 Mich 90 (2008), where the Court held that a court may not abdicate its judicial responsibility by giving unfettered discretion to an agency’s interpretation of a statute because the interpretation of a statute is an aspect of the power given to the judiciary. Instead, such an interpretation is only entitled to “respectful consideration.”
Under the principle of stare decisis, judges are bound to follow prior decisions involving the same issue. This principle promotes predictability and stability in the law. But the Court still must carefully review our precedent to ensure that each case is correctly decided. Overruling precedent may be appropriate, but only after considering whether the case is both wrongly decided and whether reliance interests counsel in favor of retaining it. In Associated Builders v Lansing, 499 Mich 177 (2016), we unanimously voted to overrule precedent because it was decided under an older version of the Constitution and had no continued viability under the language of the current Constitution.
I have not personally seen evidence that campaign spending compromises the impartiality of Michigan judges, but it is important for the Court to do what it can to ensure that Michigan judges are impartial. First, the Court can lead by example, always remaining faithful to the law in our decisions. By consistently and evenhandedly applying the laws as enacted by the Legislature, we can earn the public’s confidence that we are not altering our rulings based on campaign spending. Second, the Court must continually revisit and enforce the Code of Judicial Conduct to ensure that judges are required to conduct themselves appropriately and are held accountable for misconduct.
It is important to have continued discussions on how we select judges in Michigan. Our judicial selection process, like every aspect of government, must be subject to review and debate. We should always strive to improve the system to ensure that we select judges of the highest caliber and integrity and to ensure that the public has the information necessary to make an informed decision. Long ago Michigan’s citizens chose to make state judges stand for election. As with all questions of policy, changes to that system must come not from sitting judges but from our citizens, either through popular referendum or through their elected representatives in the Legislature.
While all aspects of our court system should be continually reviewed to determine potential areas of improvement, I believe we generally have an effective system for addressing and enforcing ethical conduct on the part of lawyers in our state. For attorney grievances, the Attorney Grievance Commission acts as the investigative body, and the Attorney Discipline Board reviews the complaints brought before it by the Attorney Grievance Commission. Nonetheless, there is always room for improvement, and the Supreme Court should pursue methods for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of these disciplinary bodies.
I believe our current system for enforcing judicial misconduct is generally effective. Judicial conduct in Michigan is governed by the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting and applying the code. This Court has taken a strong stance on judicial misconduct over the past several years, and we must continue to sanction those who do not meet the standards placed upon our judges. The Court is always looking for ways to improve the Judicial Tenure Commission, the body that investigates judicial misconduct. In this regard, we recently began the process of reviewing the court rules governing the JTC to optimize the performance of that body.
The allocation of judicial resources is determined by the Legislature and local funding units. However, the Court must play its part by ensuring that the Legislature and the local funding units have the information they need to make sound allocation decisions. The Court needs to continually assess whether each court in the state has the right number of judges to efficiently and fairly administer justice. This might mean reducing judicial positions in some courts, while adding judicial resources to understaffed courts. The Court should also continue its successful pursuit of technological advancements, such as e-filing, that allow courts to operate more efficiently and expeditiously.
City of residence Redford Township
Age 61
Degrees earned Regent University, M.A. Public Policy, magna cum laude, 1985. Detroit College of Law, J.D., 1981 Michigan State University, B.A. Political Science and Criminal Justice, honors, 1977.
Vehicles owned Chevy Suburban, Buick Park Avenue, Mercedes Benz
Incumbent? false
The security and protection of Constitutional and unalienable rights is the responsibility of the Supreme Court. The Court, however, has wrongfully balanced our rights against purported governmental interests, thereby watering down many of them and eliminating others altogether. The state's only compelling interest is the security of rights and the Court's job is to effect that security in the face of legislative and executive assaults by the other branches of government and by the unchecked administrative organs of those branches.
The most serious problem facing the Supreme Court is loss of its vision as the defender of Constitution and unalienable rights. The Supreme Court Justices can do little to recover this vision as long as they reject the principles of the Declaration of Independence, with its reliance on "the laws of nature and of nature's God," equality, unalienable rights, government by consent and the right to alter or abolish civil government. We can, therefore, continue only to expect judicial affirmation of the unchecked growth of state power at the expense of our rights.
McCormick v. Carrier, 795 NW 2d 517 (2010), recognized the right to a remedy for persons injured by the negligence of another involving the operation of a motor vehicle. In Re Sanders, Docket No. 146680. Decided June 2, 2014, abolishing the “one-parent doctrine,” protecting a father's right to direct his child's placement after the mother was found. Though an earlier case, Smith v. Globe Life Insurance Co. 460 Mich 446; 597 NW2d 28 (1999), judicially all but abolished the Consumer Protection Act by shielding virtually all licensed or state regulated businesses from its reach, leaving the consumer without the remedies provide by the Act.
"Stare decisis" is Latin and means "to stand by that which is decided." The principle is that precedential decisions are to be followed by the courts. Stare decisis, however is a doctrine, not a rule of law. Courts are always bound to follow the law, not their own doctrines. If prior judicial decisions have balanced or qualified the enjoyment of a Constitutional or unalienable right to its detriment, or limited the right through judicial construction through a long line of cases, or created "rights" out of wrongs, the judicial reaffirmation of that right or correct rule in all its substance fully warrants "overruling" the court's prior case or cases.
Any steps the state Supreme Court might take to reassure the public that Michigan judges are impartial would be perceived by the public for what it truly would be--propaganda. Judges telling the public that judges are impartial? How believable can one's own testimony be about his or her own impartiality? The best that can be hoped for in regard to the selection of good judges is that they fear God, seek the factual truth, hate covetousness and refuse bribes when offered. To expect more is probably not realistic.
It is not the process by which Justices are selected that needs to be changed. It is the media's coverage of judicial candidates that needs to change. Coverage of the incumbent and all challengers on equal terms should be made a matter of public discussion, not merely select coverage of the favored and funded few.
Michigan's current system looks to the Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC) to police the profession. The AGC is the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the Court for allegations of attorney misconduct. The AGC serves to maintain and promote the integrity of the Bar and to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession. The AGC need not exist. The profession can be satisfactorily policed by trial judges utilizing orders and sanctions in connection with attorneys who act unethically when appearing before that court. In all other instances, unethical conduct, that also constitutes malpractice, can be remedied by private legal action.
Michigan's judges are governed by the Judicial Tenure Commission. The JTC was created when voters passed an amendment to Article 6, § 30 of the Michigan Constitution in August, 1968. The enabling court rule is now codified in MCR 9.200. The Commission strives to hold state judges, magistrates, and referees accountable for their misconduct without jeopardizing or compromising the essential independence of the judiciary. The basis for Commission action is a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or Rules of Professional Conduct, which are published with the Michigan Rules of Court. There is little the Supreme Court can do to directly affect the Commission with Constitutional stature.
Courts are funded locally at the trial level by local units of government. This is a legislative matter as the judiciary does not control the purse strings.
City of residence DETROIT
Age 63
Military service NONE
Degrees earned Western Michigan University, Bachelor, Education and Sociology University of Detroit, Masters, Criminal Justice Valparaiso University School of Law, Juris Doctorate Howard University School of Law, National Community Lawyer Fellowship
Vehicles owned 2013 Chevy Malibu and 1999 Ford Taurus Sho
Incumbent? false
Race/ethnicity African American
Current occupation Judge Wayne County Third Circuit Court
Other relevant professional experience Judge Thomas was a practicing attorney in Michigan for 16 years prior to her service on the court for 20 years. She taught legal writing and research to paralegals and law students. She is the establishing & supervising Judge, of the largest Veterans Treatment Court in the State. She was elected Chairwoman of the Veterans Treatment Court Committee of the of the Military and Veterans Section of the Michigan Bar Association. She Supervising Judge, Wayne County Restorative Justice Program. She provide continuous education lectures on human trafficking, expungement, civil rights of the disable and family law matters.
Current or previous elected office Judge Wayne County Third Circuit Court
The primary role of the Court is to uphold both the Federal Constitution and the State Constitution with the respect of the intent of the state legislatures when ruling on the application of state law and the reasoning of cases appealed to the Court for review. The Court also has responsibility for the administration of judicial resources, by ensuring that the administration is implementing sound business practices. The allocation of resources must result in an equitable distribution of funds throughout the state. The Court is presenting its decisions in a way that is practical so that the citizens can follow and understand its application of the Law as it is applicable to the cases.
Controlling the cost of litigation, while insuring quality services to the public, is one of the most serious challenges facing the Court. There is one legal resource that has proven to be effective in creating cost savings in many issues of litigation. The implementation of Alternative Dispute Resolution, arbitration and mediation option, is becoming the norm in litigation throughout the state instead of going to trial. The Court can increase cost savings by promoting the establishment of Specialty Courts such as Veterans Treatment Courts, Drug Treatment Court, which can effective cost associated with the Department of Corrections budget as well.
UAW v GREEN, 870 Mich N.W.2d 867 (2015) The case had a ill impact on the middle class citizens, the outcome effected the established "Right to Work" laws, Public Acts 348 and 349 of 2012. The question before the court was the constitutionality of Section 3 of 2012 PA 349 which amends the public employment relations act (PERA), MCL 423.201 et seq. WAYNE COUNTY EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM v WAYNE CHARTER COUNTY 859 Mich. N.W.2d 678 (2014) The case outcome allowed for local government accountability. The transfer of $32 Million dollars violated the exclusive benefit rule and the prohibited transaction rule under the Public Employee Retirement Systems Investment Act. MCL 38.1132 et seq.
Stare decisis is the legal concept at the foundation of a rule of law principle which, in its purest form, provides for an orderly business society and respect for the separation of power through the three branches of government. The overruling of prior legal principles through the reversal of legal opinions should be dependent upon an infringement of a constitutional protection guarantee under the Federal and State Constitutions and or an amendment to or the creation of a state statues, requiring the Court to interpret the law and requires the Court to respect the principle of separation of powers. The Court inappropriately overruled PRESERVE THE DUNES V. DEQ 471 Mich. 508 (Mich. 2004).
The implementation of public financing in judicial campaigns would limit the ability of third-party influence impacting partiality of the judicial process.The Michigan Campaign Finance Act implementation ensures that judges aren’t campaigning like political branch candidates, because that may create inappropriate politicization of the judiciary. Individuals and PAC's wishing to participate in the election process of judges may give freely to a public account with set monetary limits. The Supreme Court can continue to support and promote the judicial model code of ethics, to reassure the public that Michigan judges are impartial.
The process of nominating Supreme Court candidates at a political party convention and having the state of Michigan place the judicial candidate’s name on the nonpartisan ballot can be confusing to some of the public because it appears to be disingenuous. Should the current process of party nominations continue, the judicial candidate’s name should be placed on the ballot with the nominating party, this implementation will simplify the public’s process of completing the ballot in its entirety.
Yes, the Michigan current system of enforcing ethical conduct on part of its lawyers is working satisfactorily.
Yes, the Michigan current system of enforcing ethical conduct on part of its judges is working satisfactorily.
The state judicial resources in Michigan are allocated fairly, but there is financial challenge with the county and city courts having ample resources to function. The economic stability of various counties and municipality are limited. The courts in those locals may incur economic limitations not placed on the communities with more wealth. This in equity results in a variance of quantity and quality of judicial services provided to Michigan the populous.
I have not been convicted of a misdemeanor for felony.
I have not filed for personal bankruptcy.