A lot going on in the last 48 hours, some of it good (depending on your point of view), some of it very bad — and nothing having anything to do with activity in the legislative or executive branches of state government:
— Apparently no good deed goes unpunished, at least any you received in the presidential campaign last fall — President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey. Next up: A “liberal” lawyer has been elected president of South Korea who his opponents claim will play footsie with Kim Jong Un. Does any of this have any bearing on our fates here in Michigan? Stay tuned — perhaps for months, if not years. But on to more important blockbusters —
— On Monday, President Donald Trump appointed state Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen of Ann Arbor to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. If confirmed, she will fill the vacancy created by the transition of Judge David McKeague (also a Michigander) to senior status on the bench. The 6th Circuit covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Larsen must vacate Michigan’s high bench, giving Gov. Rick Snyder still another appointment to fill her vacancy. It will be Snyder’s fifth — an all-time record for Michigan governors, and he’s done it in only seven years in office while predecessors John Engler, Bill Milliken, and G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams served 12, 14, and 12 years, respectively, and never came close to matching Snyder’s achievement. Furthermore, if Trump also taps another Supreme, Brian Zahra, to fill another federal opening, that will be another new record for Snyder — SIX appointees. Whomever Snyder appoints to replace Larsen must run for a full eight-year term next year, bearing the incumbency designation beneath his or her name. It will be interesting to see how Michigan’s two U.S. Senators — Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters — vote on confirming Larsen, who is a strong conservative. Both Stabenow and Peters opposed the recent confirmation of Neil, Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the circumstances were different, and Gorsuch wasn’t from Michigan. Hey! here’s a possibility — one political observer has suggested that Peters or Stabenow might not just oppose Larsen’s confirmation — they might “blue slip” her. A blue slip is a time-honored tradition of home state senators being allowed to “put a hold” on anyone nominated to a federal office that requires Senate confirmation. Michigan senators, both Democratic and Republican, used it repeatedly over the past two decades to block nominees they didn’t like. If either Stabenow or Peters use it on Larsen, would the Senate GOP majority “blow up the rules” with another “nuclear option” in which they would deny the blue slips and vote Larsen through? Again, stay tuned.
— On Tuesday, Snyder appointed state Appeals Court Judge Kurtis Wilder of Canton to the state Supreme Court, replacing former Justice Robert P. (Bob) Young, Jr., who retired last month before the end of his term (at the end of 2018) to return to the practice of law. Wilder becomes Snyder’s fourth appointment, marking the first time a single governor has appointed a sitting majority (four of the seven justices) on the high bench. Wilder is also the fifth African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, following Otis Smith, Dennis Archer, Conrad Mallett, and Young. Along with Snyder’s replacement for the departing Larsen, Wilder will run for a full eight-year term in the 2018 November general election bearing the incumbency designation beneath his name. The duo will be running together against whatever competition is mounted against them, by the Democrats, Libertarians, Natural Law Party or whatever. The top two finishers will be elected.
— Also occurring Monday (the timeline is a little murkier), third-term state Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette) suffered his second drunk driving arrest in the past couple of years and, a few hours later, evidently committed suicide in his Lansing apartment a few blocks from the Capitol. He was one of the House Minority’s five Assistant Whips and leaves a wife and two children. A popular lawmaker, he was widely expected to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination to the state Senate from the 38th district to replace the term-limited Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba). Kivela’s fate brings back memories of the late state Rep. Dennis Dutko (D-Warren), who was convicted of drunk driving multiple times some 35 years ago. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) pursued Dutko relentlessly, demanding that he resign from the House or be expelled by his colleagues. He finally did quit the House in 1989, and then he, too, committed suicide the next year in a Florida condominium. The House is now down to 108 members, and a special election must be held to take Kivela’s place for the balance of his term ending Dec. 31, 2018. Meanwhile, there are female inmates in Michigan prisons for extended-year sentences for — you guessed it — drunk driving, even though their offenses didn’t involve accidents, injuries or deaths. Some of these prisoners are single moms with aging parents in convalescent homes and children who have had to be farmed out to relatives or placed in foster care. All this is costing state taxpayers hundred of thousands of dollars. The state’s criminal justice system is obviously flawed in many areas, and here is another example — one that hasn’t been explored. The question should be asked — but won’t be — whether the pendulum against drunk driving has swung too far.
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