Michigan Supreme Court

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Michigan Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1805
Location:   Lansing, Michigan
Chief:  $165,000
Associates:  $165,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Nonpartisan election of judges
Term:   8 years
Active justices

Stephen Markman  •  Brian Zahra  •  Mary Beth Kelly  •  David Viviano  •  Robert P. Young, Jr.  •  Bridget Mary McCormack  •  Richard Bernstein  •  

Seal of Michigan.png

The Michigan Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Michigan. The court is located in the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, the state capital. There are seven justices on the court, one being the chief justice. Justices are elected to eight-year terms, or appointed by the governor in the case of a vacancy. Most commonly, the court takes appeals from the Michigan Court of Appeals. It is also responsible for the administration and supervision of all lower courts in the state.[1]


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected byParty
Justice Stephen Markman1999-2020Gov. John EnglerRepublican
Justice Brian Zahra2011-2022Gov. Rick SnyderRepublican
Justice Mary Beth Kelly2011-2019ElectedRepublican
Justice David Viviano2013-2016Gov. Rick SnyderRepublican
Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr.1999-2019Gov. John EnglerRepublican
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack2013-2021ElectedDemocratic
Justice Richard Bernstein2015-2022ElectedDemocratic

Judicial selection

Seven justices sit on the court, chosen in nonpartisan elections for eight-year terms. Though justices' and potential justices' political affiliations are not listed on state ballots, most are nominated by either the Democratic or Republican Parties. Should a vacancy occur, the governor may appoint a temporary justice, which lasts until the next general election. The newly appointed justice then must run for re-election to retain the seat.[2]


To be a qualified candidate for the state supreme court, a person must have been licensed to practice law in the state for at least five years, and must be younger than 70 years old, the age of mandatory retirement.[2]

Chief justice

Every two years, members of the court elect one of their own to serve as chief justice.[2]


The court's term starts August 1 and runs through July 31 of the following year. Most cases involve review of Michigan Court of Appeals decisions, but the court also hears judicial misconduct cases, as well as some cases of original jurisdiction such as is the case in a bypass appeal. The court has broad superintending control power over all the state courts in Michigan.[1]


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 * *
2013 1,884 1,789
2012 1,978 2,048
2011 1,924 1,976
2010 1,960 2,054
2009 2,224 2,240
2008 2,402 2,422
2007 2,612 2,625


  • Michigan has not yet provided caseload data for 2014.



8-year term, candidates competed for 2 open seats
CandidateIncumbencyPrimary VoteElection Vote
RedfordJames Robert Redford No20.1%   DefeatedD
MurphyWilliam B. Murphy No14.2%   DefeatedD
ZahraBrian ZahraApprovedAYes32.2%   ApprovedA
BernsteinRichard BernsteinApprovedANo28.9%   ApprovedA
DernDoug Dern No4%   DefeatedD
2-year term
CandidateIncumbencyPrimary VoteElection Vote
ThomasDeborah Thomas No28.9%   DefeatedD
VivianoDavid VivianoApprovedAYes62.1%   ApprovedA
MorganKerry L. Morgan No9%   DefeatedD

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Michigan was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Michigan received a score of 0.05. Based on the justices selected, Michigan was the 21st most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[4]

Rules of practice

The Michigan Rules of Court are established by the supreme court and are applicable to the state's judicial system. There are seven chapters of court rules:

  1. General Provisions
  2. Civil Procedure
  3. Special Proceedings and Actions
  4. District Court
  5. Probate Court
  6. Criminal Procedure
  7. Appellate Rules
  8. Administrative Rules of Court
  9. Professional Disciplinary Proceedings

There are several other documents of rules as well.[5]


Judicial conduct

The Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct is composed of eight canons:

  1. A Judge Should Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary
  2. A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities
  3. A Judge Should Perform the Duties of Office Impartially and Diligently
  4. A Judge May Engage in Extrajudicial Activities
  5. Applicability of the Code of Judicial Conduct to Judicial Candidates
  6. A Judge Should Regularly File Reports of Compensation Received for Quasi-Judicial and Extra-Judicial Activities and of Monetary Contributions
  7. A Judge or a Candidate for Judicial Office Should Refrain From Political Activity Inappropriate to Judicial Office
  8. Collective Activity by Judges: The canons of this Code concerning the conduct of individual judges and judicial candidates also apply to judges' associations or any other organization consisting exclusively of judges.[6][7]

The code in its entirety can be read here.

Removal of justices

Michigan judges may be removed with impeachment by the Michigan House of Representatives and conviction by the state Senate, the governor may remove a justice with "concurrent resolution" of two-thirds of both houses, or a justice may be removed with the recommendation of the Judicial Tenure Commission.[8]

Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Michigan earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[9]

Notable decisions


Chambers of the Michigan Supreme Court

On July 24, 1805, the first supreme court for the new Territory of Michigan was established. Augustus B. Woodward, Frederick Bates, and James Witherell were the first justices. That year, the Woodward Code was created to outline the structure and proceedings of the court. In March of 1823, the lifelong terms of the justices were changed to four-year terms.

Michigan's Constitution of 1835 laid out new rules for the supreme court. There would be three justices, and one session of court was to be held in Wayne, Washtenaw, and Kalamazoo Counties each year. Justices were appointed by the governor, confirmed by the senate, and held terms of seven years. The court had original and appellate jurisdiction in common law and equity cases, as well as action of right and the extra legal remedies of mandamus, quo warranto, habeas corpus, and writs of certiorari over decisions made by the circuit courts.

The Michigan Constitution of 1850 made several changes to the court, including the elimination of the separate Court of Chancery, and moving to a supreme court with one chief justice and three associates.[18]

Notable firsts

  • 1961: Otis M. Smith was appointed as the first black justice on the court
  • 1973: Mary S. Coleman became the first woman on the court, and eventually became chief justice[18]

Former justices

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Michigan Courts, "About the Supreme Court," accessed October 29, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Michigan," accessed October 29, 2014
  3. Michigan Courts, "Michigan Supreme Court Annual Report 2013," accessed September 23, 2014
  4. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  5. Michigan Courts, "Michigan Court Rules," accessed October 29, 2014
  6. Michigan Courts, "Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct," accessed October 29, 2014
  7. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  8. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Selection: Removal of Judges," accessed October 28, 2014
  9. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  10. Capital Area District Libraries
  11. 11.0 11.1 Michigan Radio.org, "Michigan Supreme Court passes on libraries and guns case," November 21, 2013
  12. Michigan Supreme Court, "Capital Area District Library v. Michigan Open Carry, Inc.," November 20, 2013
  13. MLive.com, "Libraries can't prohibit bookworms from openly carrying guns on their premises," November 21, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 Think Progress.org, "Michigan Libraries Can’t Ban Guns Thanks To State Court Ruling," November 22, 2013
  16. MI Court History, "People v Kevorkian: The Right to Die," accessed October 28, 2014
  17. Standard Bearer, "Michigan Home Schoolers Lose Teacher Certification Battle," September 1, 1993
  18. 18.0 18.1 Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, "History Overview," accessed October 28, 2014
  19. Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, "Justices Biographies," accessed October 29, 2014