Remember 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?)