Question 1): Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week appointed state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield) to the Michigan Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve on the court.
Bolden, 34, will succeed Justice Bridget McCormack, a Democratic justice who will retire from the bench maybe this week, or at least by Dec. 31. Bolden’s appointment will maintain Democrats’ 4-3 majority on the bench.
Asked about the process of choosing Bolden, Whitmer said that, when making appointments to the court, “we’re looking for high caliber, intellect, fidelity to the law, and the rule of law. Also, I think lived experience is [an] important part of that assessment, as well as ensuring that we’ve got a bench that reflects the population of the state of Michigan. I think that…what did we say, ‘185 years we’ve never had an African American woman on the state’s highest court?’ she added. It’s about damn time.”
So, how important is this appointment, anyway? Is Bolden taking over for McCormack on a 4-3 Democratic majority court for at least the next two years significant?
Answer 1): Bolden, who will be by far the youngest justice on the high bench but the ONLY justice with any experience in the state Legislature, will certainly be no McCormack, at least right away. Time will tell how and/or whether she can match McCormack’s accomplishments and political sagacity. Bolden’s first test, and the test of the court as a whole, will be how they vote on choosing a new chief justice beginning in January for the next two years. Is this a Hobson’s Choice? (see below). Will it be Beth Clement, a Republican who was just selected by her current colleagues (including McCormack but not yet Bolden) to be the interim Chief Justice between the date McCormack resigns and the start of the year? Or will the Democrats with their majority select somebody else for the 2023-24 term? Democrat Ricard Bernstein would seem to be the logical alternative to Clement, since he’s the incumbent with by far the most seniority — he was first elected in 2014 and re-elected earlier this month, whereas the other three Democrats have been on the court for less than four years. Who knows? This is real “inside baseball” high court drama. Stay tuned, and the answer will come in a matter of a few weeks, if not days.
Question 2): Nobody in the news media appears to have focused on what is one of the most important questions of the day — how long will the new lawmakers just elected to the state Senate and state House of Representatives serve? Proposal 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot just passed overwhelmingly, and it means that 15 brand-new state senators can serve three four-year terms (for a total of 12 years), and 59 state reps can serve successively as many as six two-year terms for a total of 12 years in the House if they can all get re-elected going forward. Or the Rep could serve a few terms in the House, and then switch over to the Senate and serve there, so long as their total service in both chambers doesn’t exceed a dozen years. For that matter, Senators can switch over after a term or two in the Senate and serve in the House (three of them just did that this year) so long as their total service in both chambers doesn’t exceed 12 years. Moreover, some 400 term-limited ex-legislators are eligible to run again, and some current lawmakers who were re-elected in November can extend their careers in the Legislature. What does all this mean?
Answer 2): For starters, every one should realize that all the new legislators’ possible length of service will extend past the 2030 census and a new apportionment of seats beginning with the election of 2032. The district lines of whoever is in place in 2031-32 will change. How does that effect their re-election chances? Ideally, somebody just elected Nov. 8 could serve through 2034, if they get re-elected continuously no matter what their districts look like. So, what does this mean for the composition of successive Legislatures over the next decade? How will it effect things like leadership (Speaker and Majority Leader) or committee chairmanships in the two chambers? Or whether someone in the House might decide to give up his or her seat for a crack at the state Senate? You can expect to see increasing speculation in the news media, when they get around to it, about what this means for Michigan government, and whether the new modus operandi is a good thing or a bad thing.
Question 3): What is a Hobson’s Choice? It’s a choice which is really no choice at all. It gives the illusion of a number of options, but in reality it pits one certain option against another option that appears to be a non-starter. So the “chooser” has to fall back on the one certain choice — take it or leave it. So, in the race for the next chairman of the beleaguered Michigan Republican Party, is that what we’ve got?
Answer 3): The Republicans’ choice, to be made by the dysfunctional Michigan GOP early next year, depends on who the delegates are, and where they line up. As of now, do they choose the party’s recently defeated Attorney General nominee, Matt DePerno, who represents the so-called “grassroots,” pro-Trump faction of the GOP? If so, he’s the ‘take it” choice for at least half the delegates, by default. Or do they choose former U.S. Rep./2010 gubernatorial candidate/recent U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra? Hoekstra was appointed to his diplomatic post by former President Donald J. Trump, but he is seen as the ‘establishment’ traditional conservative Republican candidate for the GOP’s top leadership post. For this Republican faction, he has to be the default choice simply because Trump acolyte DePerno is the alternative. Of course, there is some time to go until the convention nearly three months away, so maybe other candidates will emerge and possibly DePerno or Hoekstra will drop out. And what about Tudor Dixon? The GOP’s gubernatorial nominee says she, too, is interested, although it’s unlikely she would run if Hoekstra also does. If they’re both in the race, that might boost DePerno’s chances if he’s in the contest for the long haul.