A new book by former justice of the court Elizabeth A. Weaver charges some of her colleagues with bullying tactics, changing legal precedence to favor a certain political party, and being swayed by undue public pressure, among other accusations.
The Michigan Supreme Court, like any court of law, is presumed to be a safe harbor from partisan politics. As an intern at the Michigan Supreme Court years ago, serving under then-Chief Justice G. Mennen Williams, I was told the court of seven justices could not be swayed by outside influences, favoritism, or self-indulgence.
But in a new book, due out in May, former justice of the court Elizabeth A. Weaver (1995 to 2010) charges some of her colleagues on the bench with bullying tactics, changing legal precedence to favor a certain political party, and being swayed by undue public pressure, among other accusations. The result is Judicial Deceit, Tyranny & Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court(Peninsula Press), written by Weaver and David B. Schock, a filmmaker and former newspaper reporter, editor, and college professor.
One of many major battles detailed in the 814-page book — conflicts which, more times than not, pitted the Republican majority against the Democratic minority — was a review of the rules for the disqualification of justices over conflicts of interest in a given case. In 2006, Weaver had moved to publish for public comment three proposals that had been prepared on the issue.
Rather than see the proposals published — which may have impacted a case before the court — the four Republican justices (Clifford Taylor, Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markham, and Robert Young Jr.), in a 4-3 decision, pulled their support for the entire disqualification issue. By taking the matter off the table, Weaver and her two Democratic colleagues were unable to pursue the issue further.
Reflecting on her colleagues’ decision, Weaver says in the book, the Republican majority voted to close the file so that it would never be officially recorded. “So it’s like Soviet Union type stuff, rewriting history; it didn’t happen,” Weaver says. “It’s perfectly all right for them to change their mind and to decide that we’re not going forward with it, but there should be a record of that. And I made a dissent to that.”
It was in those dissents, in case after case, that Weaver found herself repeatedly at odds with the four Republican justices. After the disqualification issue was dropped, Weaver said Justice Taylor had proposed in a memo that he would change his vote and grant the stay of a case before the court “if Weaver would drop her latest dissent.” Weaver’s response was swift. “It is not wise to suggest a justice’s vote on a pending case can be bargained for another justice’s silence,” she wrote. Weaver added that Taylor’s suggestion “would be unethical and interfere with the fair and orderly decision-making of this court.”
In a separate matter, after Weaver dissented over the selection of a chief judge for Kent County’s Probate Court, her Republican colleagues “were quick to characterize her as a disappointed crank,” Schock writes. “She stayed with the issues; they sank to ad hominem attacks.”
To move past political infighting, the book offers a seven-point plan for reform. One suggestion: Rather than have political party nominations for elections, Weaver advocates prospective justices earn a spot on a ballot by petition — in the same manner that trial and Court of Appeals judge candidates do. She also promotes more transparency, less secrecy, and electing justices by district. Given the infighting, inefficiencies, and legal escapades detailed in the book, Weaver’s suggestions should be reviewed immediately.