Senate Bill 652, which will likely be signed into law Friday, ensures that handpicked Republican judges will hear cases brought against the State by the citizens of Michigan

courtroom2Remember how, last winter, Michigan Republicans, flush with corporate money and well armed with legislation drafted in far right think tanks, set out to kill unions, and systematically roll back women’s rights, gay rights, and public education? Well, it would appear that they weren’t quite done… Unsatisfied with having just control over the House, Senate and Governor’s office, they’re now making a play for the Judicial branch.

Just two weeks after being proposed by Republican Senator Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, Senate Bill 652 has cleared both the House and Senate, and is now awaiting the signature of Governor Snyder, who has gone on record calling it, “a good piece of legislation that will broaden the base of judges hearing cases.” The legislation, for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with it, would essentially give Republicans the ability to determine which judges hear cases brought against the State.

Here, describing in more detail what the law will do, is a clip from the Detroit Free Press.

…The bill removes the Court of Claims from Ingham County Circuit Court and expands its jurisdiction, moving an unknown number of pending and future lawsuits against the state to one of four Michigan Court of Appeals judges selected by the Michigan Supreme Court…

Many see removal of Court of Claims cases from Ingham County Circuit Court as a partisan move because Ingham County tilts Democratic, and many Republican lawmakers have said they believe that political bent is reflected in the court’s decisions.

There also are technical concerns, such as whether Court of Appeals judges are properly equipped to act as trial courts, and whether appeals from decisions of one Court of Appeals judge should go to other Court of Appeals judges.

But the expansion of the court’s jurisdiction to potentially include state civil rights, environmental, whistle-blower, Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act cases that would normally be filed in circuit courts around the state has sparked greater controversy….

This essentially means that, if you bring a case against the State, the State has the ability to choose your judge. For instance, let’s say that you filed a suit against the State of Michigan, demanding to know which wealthy individuals poured money into our Governor’s secretive slush fund? Well, now you can almost guarantee that your case will be heard by a Court of Appeals judge friendly to the administration.

The following message comes from the desk of Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

I spoke out against Senate Bill 652 last week as they jammed it through the Senate without giving any proper hearing on the bill, and today, Republicans in the House took the next step by passing it out of their chamber as well. This bill would take the Court of Claims, the court the people of Michigan rely on to file suit against the actions taken by their Government, and put it under the direct control of partisan judges and political appointees.

The impact of this move cannot be understated. It would make it far more difficult, if not outright impossible, for the public to challenge the laws being rushed through by Republicans as the judges that would now be in charge of hearing those cases could be those put on the bench by the very same Republicans. It is nothing short of a subversion of the checks and balances between the three branches of government and a power grab to stack the courts in favor of their own party. This bill has been fast tracked through the Legislature, introduced less than two weeks ago, and if past experience has taught us anything, when Republicans ram through legislation the outcome is never good for the people.

Newspapers have spoken out across the state against this action. The Detroit Free Press asked “is rigging the fight in broad daylight what now passes for transparency in government?” while the Lansing State Journal correctly pointed out that “The speed at which this bill is moving suggests a political agenda rather than a better government agenda.”

Even worse, a well-respected former House Republican staffer who worked on the House Judiciary Committee for more than 40 years testified in opposition to these bills yesterday, calling his former employers out for attempting to rig the courts against the people and eroding the very foundation of our justice system.

In short, this legislation attacks the very core of our system of Government. It’s offensive to me not only as a Senator or an attorney, but as a person who believes there is a fundamental right for our citizens to be able to challenge the laws and policies of their government in a fair and nonpartisan court. Their decision to move this legislation through as quickly as possible raises serious questions as to the legalities of what they’re doing, but also what they’re trying to hide from the public in the process.

I, for one, hope the Governor finally shows some conviction and calls this bill what it is—a political ploy meant to silence the people and uphold questionable, unethical and even unconstitutional legislation.

Please join me in calling on Governor Snyder to veto this bill. You can click here to share your concerns about SB 652 directly with his office.

It’s worth noting that the Democrats suggested an amendment which would have assigned judges to these cases by blind lottery, ensuring some degree of fairness. Fairness, however, was clearly not what the Republicans were after, in spite of their rhetoric. The amendment was defeated, ensuring that just four Republican judges will hear all such cases. So, if you want to bring suit against the Republicans for violating the Open Meetings Act, or any number of other things, you might as well just save yourself the aggravation and stay home. Or, better yet, move to a state that still believes in Democracy. (Speaking of which, is it any surprise that our young people are leaving the state in droves?)

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  1. wobblie
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    from Michigan Liberal
    “The GOP is violating the Constitution with this law. (0.00 / 0)
    Number 1-

    Article VI § 1 of the Michigan Constitution explicitly states as follows:

    “The judicial power of the state is vested exclusively in one court of justice which shall be divided into one supreme court, one court of appeals, one trial court of general jurisdiction known as the circuit court, one probate court, and courts of limited jurisdiction that the legislature may establish by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house.”

    The Court of Claims is a “court of limited Jurisdiction.” Parkwood Ltd Dividend Housing Ass’n v State Housing Development Authority, 468 Mich 763, 768-769; 664 NW2d 185 (2003).

    It’s current Jurisdiction is for all intents and purposes limited to “all claims and demands, liquidated and unliquidated, ex contractu and ex delicto, against the state and any of its departments, commissions, boards, institutions, arms, or agencies.” MCL 600.6419(a).

    The current legislation pending to change the Court of Claims EXPANDS this otherwise limited jurisdiction to include:

    All claims and demands, ANY CLAIM OR DEMAND, STATUTORY OR CONSTITUTIONAL, liquidated and ORunliquidated, ex contractu and OR ex delicto, OR ANY DEMAND FORMONETARY, EQUITABLE, OR DECLARATORY RELIEF OR ANY DEMAND FOR ANEXTRAORDINARY WRIT against the state and OR any of its departments, commissions, boards, institutions, arms, or agencies.OR OFFICERS NOTWITHSTANDING ANOTHER LAW THAT CONFERS JURISDICTION OF THE CASE IN THE CIRCUIT COURT.

    This means that, as presently written, a 2/3 vote of BOTH house of the Legislature is required to pass this legislation.

    Number 2 –

    Art VI section 23 of the Michigan Constitution declares:

    A vacancy shall occur in the office of judge of any court of record or in the district court by death, removal, resignation or vacating of the office, and such vacancy shall be filled by appointment by the governor. The person appointed by the governor shall hold office until 12 noon of the first day of January next succeeding the first general election held after the vacancy occurs, at which election a successor shall be elected for the remainder of the unexpired term. Whenever a new office of judge in a court of record, or the district court, is created by law, it shall be filled by election as provided by law. The supreme court may authorize persons who have been elected and served as judges to perform judicial duties for limited periods or specific assignments.”

    And Art VI section 19 states:

    “The supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit court, the probate court and other courts designated as such by the legislature shall be courts of record and each shall have a common seal”

    The Court of Claims is a constitutional court of limited jurisdiction created by the legislature, and invested with the powers of the Judiciary.

    Consequently, it must be considered a Court of Record.

    See ATTORNEY GENERAL ex rel. DANHOF v RENIHAN; 184 Mich 272; 151 NW 324 (1915), which held regarding similar provisions in a prior iteration of the State Constitution:

    “It is inconceivable that the framers of the present Constitution, or the people adopting it, were ignorant of, or unfamiliar with, the law defining the courts of record then in the state . . . . In naming certain courts in section 17 that should be courts of record did they intend to exclude other courts from that class which had been, or might be, created by the Legislature, when by section 1 it had been declared that the judicial power should be vested in certain named courts, ‘and such other courts of civil and criminal jurisdiction, inferior to the Supreme Court, as the Legislature might establish by general law?’ To ask this question is to answer it in the negative.

    The construction which we place on section 17 is that it is declaratory, declaring that the Supreme Court, the circuit and the probate courts shall be courts of record, but that it is not prohibitive, restrictive, or exclusive, and does not preclude other courts from being courts of record within the meaning of the provisions of section 20. The Constitution may declare that certain courts shall be courts of record. The Legislature (acting within the limits of section 1 of said article) may declare that other courts created by it shall be courts of record. But all are courts of record, ‘and when a vacancy occurs in the office of judge of any court of record,’ the Governor may fill the same temporarily by appointment. This construction gives full force and effect to all the provisions of the Constitution under consideration, and saves the incongruity that must exist if we adopt the view of the respondent that the term ‘ any court of record’ is not broad enough to include all courts of record.” DANHOF, 184 Mich at 280-281.

    It remains to be seen whether or not the Democrats in the legislature pick up on this. But, this is blatantly unconstitutional.”

  2. anonymous
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I can’t help but think this will come back to bite them in the ass once they no longer control the Supreme Court and every other branch of government.

  3. Tammy Smyth
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Ironically our only recourse is to file a suit against the government, which thanks to this new law will be summarily thrown out.

  4. Meta
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    From today’s Detroit Free Press editorial:

    But this is no simple case of shoe-is-on-the-other-foot partisanship.

    Cases filed in the Court of Claims are currently assigned to one of the Ingham County Circuit Court’s nine judges by blind draw. The Court of Appeals boasts 28 judges divided among four geographical divisions, but under Jones’ bill all Court of Claims cases would be assigned to one of just four judges handpicked by the Republican-led Supreme Court.

    And although Jones claims his purpose is to make sure the judges assigned to Court of Claims cases have been elected by voters throughout the state, his bill would allow the Supreme Court to exclude judges from the Detroit-based First District Court of Appeals and the Lansing-based Fourth District. If the bill passes, it will be a simple matter for Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. to stack the reconfigured Court of Claims with Snyder-appointed judges predisposed to toss out any claim against the administration.

    The GOP’s ambition to thwart any meaningful judicial review of the Republican legislation or executive action is so transparent that even Bruce Timmons, who has counseled House Republicans on judicial matters for more than four decades, opined in a hearing before the House Government Operations Committee that Jones’ bill amounted to “rigging the deck for those who have to appear in court.”

    Ingham Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who recently rebuffed Democratic calls to indict Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger on election-rigging charges, testified at the same hearing that Jones’ Court of Claims bill violated the constitutional separation of powers.

    Read more:

  5. John Galt
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    The courts are for cowards. If you want to change things do it like a man. Start a company, get successful, amass power and then exert your will on your fellow citizens. Don’t ask a judge for change. Demand it of those you put in office.

  6. Mr. X
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Ann Arbor Representative Jeff Irwin on the floor of the House discussing SB 652.

    This will cost Michigan more money.

  7. Elf
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    How exactly will it “broaden the base of judges hearing cases” if it moves us toward a system where one of just four handselected judges is hearing each case? That makes no sense.

  8. Taco Farts
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    “That makes no sense.”

    Welcome to the future! You must have traveled a long way to have come from a time when making sense was of any concern to That Party.


  9. Tango Uniform
    Posted November 9, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    These filthy god-be-damned fascist stooges, like Snyder, know no bounds to corporate domination of government. It is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. They need to be eliminated.

  10. Maria Huffman
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if there was a particular case about to go to Ingham County Circuit Court that drove Snyder and the other Republicans to want this bill passed so speedily. It all seems so hasty.

  11. wobblie
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    from Michigan Liberal
    “Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 17:11:32 PM EST

    Governor Rubber Stamp strikes again. From Ye Olde Inbox, a press release from Progress Michigan.

    LANSING- Governor Rick Snyder signed SB 652 Tuesday afternoon, which will expand the Court of Claims jurisdiction – removing the right to jury trial from many cases – even in the instance of civil rights cases. The law has been called a Republican power-grab by numerous groups and newspaper editorial boards called for Snyder to veto it.

    When it’s all said and done, our benevolent overlord Rick Snyder will go down not as a brilliant innovator of government, but of a spineless and ineffective leader who couldn’t control the worst impulses of a Legislature run by neanderthals. “

  12. RUTH7
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Acknowledging that there are flaws that will need to be corrected, Governor Snyder signed SB 652 into law. Why he would sign it when he knew that it would have to be amended leaves many thinking that there was some immediate need on his part. For instance, could he be hoping to avoid the release of donor names associated with his Nerd Fund?

  13. Meta
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    It’s “payback” says an Inghan Court Judge.

    Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette — who has made rulings both for and against Snyder in recent highly publicized cases involving the emergency manager law and the selection of Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr — said he is “very, very disillusioned at the manner in which this legislation came about, the manner in which it was shoved down the throats of the people of Michigan and the damage it’s going to cause the entire judicial system.”

    “This is nothing but payback for having the gall to stand up to them,” Collette said.

    Snyder told reporters he doesn’t know how many court cases now in state circuit courts will be moved to Court of Appeals judges as a result of the legislation that was rushed through the Legislature in two weeks on mostly party-line votes.

    But he defended the speed with which the law was passed, even as he said he understands amending legislation is on its way. Snyder said he doesn’t know all the details of the “trailer bill,” but said he understands it will protect the right to a jury trial for lawsuits against the state that are now in the circuit courts.

    A jury trial was already not an option in the Court of Claims. Among the criticisms of the bill was that it could deprive the right to a jury trial in certain state lawsuits formerly held outside the Court of Claims where trial by jury is normally an option.

    “I thought it was an improvement over the existing practice,” Snyder said of the bill. “It’s better to have a wider range of judges” hearing cases, but “I signed it with the understanding there would be follow-up legislation.”

    Proponents of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said it makes no sense to have the Court of Claims in a jurisdiction — Democratic-leaning Ingham County — elected by only 3% of state residents.

    Now, those cases and others will be heard by one of four Michigan Court of Appeals judges selected by the Michigan Supreme Court, where Republican-nominated justices hold a 5-2 majority.

    Read more:

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