The Michigan Supreme Court election might not be as intense as the governorship election, but it’s still an important election in the state.
The Supreme Court elections are vital because of the sensitivity of the position. Judges are elected in a nonpartisan election. In addition, the governor can appoint judges if there’s a vacancy pending the next election.
In this post, we will discuss the 2022 Supreme Court election in Michigan and share other vital information about the Supreme Court. Read on!
Michigan Supreme Court Election 2022: How It Happened
Michigan was one of the 30 states nationwide that conducted a state Supreme Court election in 2022. The state had two vacant seats for a nonpartisan election on November 8, 2022.
Partisan control remained at 3-3 in the Michigan Supreme Court, with Governor Gretchen Whitmer expected to appoint a judge to fill the only vacant spot.
Two justices had a smile on their faces in the last election. They were Brian Zahra, a Republican and Richard Bernstein, a Democrat. Both won their re-election. The election was quite competitive, as three other challengers were on the ballot: Paul Hudson (D), Kyra Harris (D), and Kerry Lee Morgan (L).
The voters were allowed to vote for two of the five candidates that were on the ballot. Following the Michigan Supreme Court election procedure, candidates with the most votes emerged victorious.
Among the five other seats, the Supreme Court had two Republican and two Democratic justices. In addition, there was a vacancy the governor of the state had to fill at the time of the election.
A Handy Tip: The Supreme Court general election in 2022 was nonpartisan, but political parties in the state had the privilege of nominating candidates for the elections.
Who Won The 2022 Michigan Supreme Court Election?
Two incumbent Supreme Court Justices won re-election in the 2022 election. Justice Brian Zahra and Justice Richard Bernstein emerged winners after receiving the most votes in a contest involving three other prominent justices.
How long has Justice Bernstein served as a Supreme Court Judge?
Justice Richard Bernstein won his first election and became a Michigan Supreme Court judge in 2014. So, he ran for a second term (eight years) in 2022 after eight years on the bench.
The Democratic Party nominated Bernstein, but candidates in the 2022 elections appeared on the ballot without party affiliation.
Justice Zahra was the second judicial official who won re-election in the 2022 midterm election Supreme Court election. He was first appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, to fill a vacancy in the state’s Supreme Court back in 2011.
Justice Zahra was elected in 2012 to a partial term and then to a full eight-year term in 2014. So, after his first official eight years on the bench, he sought re-election in 2022, and won.
The Republican Party nominated Justice Zahra for the election, though candidates appeared on the ballot without party affiliation.
How Are Michigan Supreme Court Justices Elected?
Voters elect state judges for the Constitutionally-backed terms of office on the nonpartisan ballot. In this case, the Supreme Court judges have 8-year terms, while the lower courts have 6-year terms.
The Michigan constitution empowers the state governor to appoint a successor to the Supreme Court if there’s a vacant seat. The appointed successor can also run for re-election once the term they’re serving expires.
Age is another crucial factor when appointing judges to vacant positions, seeking re-election or as a new candidate. The Constitution states that only judges under 70 years at the time of election or appointment are allowed to serve in the state courts.
A Handy Tip: There is a difference between how Michigan Supreme Court judges and Federal Supreme Court Judges are appointed. While the U.S. President appoints federal judges with the advice and consent of the Senate, the people elect state judges.
How Many Judges Are In The Michigan Supreme Court?
The Michigan Supreme Court has seven justices elected to eight-year terms in nonpartisan elections. The seven justices in the Supreme Court are selected via the Michigan method, where partisan nominations follow nonpartisan elections.
Can incumbent judges seek re-election? Yes, they can, provided they meet the age requirement. An incumbent judge seeking re-election must file an affidavit of candidacy requesting to be on the ballot.
Non-incumbent candidates can file a petition or get a partisan nomination at the party convention.
Another unique thing about Michigan Supreme Court elections is that incumbency is usually noted on the ballots. But you won’t find party affiliation there. People can vote for whoever they think can deliver better results in the position.
The Supreme Court in Michigan is the highest judicial body in the state. The court weighed in on several critical issues in 2022. Let’s revisit some of those issues.
- The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that proposals regarding abortion access and voting rights must appear on the ballot in the midterm elections. The decision was necessary after the Board of State Canvassers had met gridlock along partisan lines on certifying them.
- The state’s Supreme Court refused the Republican governor hopefuls’ pleas. They didn’t turn in enough valid petition signatures but wanted to appear on the August primary ballot, which wasn’t possible.
- The state’s Supreme Court showed that state prosecutors erred when they allowed a circuit judge to serve as a one-man grand jury to indict former state and city officials for participating in the Flint water crisis. The court dismissed the case, though there are plans that state officials might bring new charges.
What Are The Qualifications To Be Elected Michigan Supreme Court Judge?
There are several criteria a judge must fulfill to appear on the ballot for the Supreme Court election. Here are the requirements below.
- The judge must be under the age of 70
- The just must be a qualified elector
- Have at least five years of experience practicing law
- Possess the required license to practice law in the state
A Handy Tip: The fellow justices in the court elect the chief justice. The Chief justice of the court can also serve a two-year term.
What Happens If There Is A Midterm Vacancy In Michigan Supreme Court?
If there is a vacancy in the Supreme Court, the state’s Constitution empowers the governor to act. In this case, the state governor can appoint a temporary replacement.
The appointed judge will continue from where the departed judge stopped. In other words, the appointed judge will remain in office until the next general Supreme Court election.
At the Michigan governor’s request, the state bar’s standing committee handling judicial qualifications will interview, evaluate, and rate all candidates made available for the position.
After the assessment, the committee will submit a confidential report to the state governor. However, the governor can appoint anyone he or she deems fit. The law didn’t mention that the governor must request candidates from the committee or rely on the committee’s evaluations.
How Much Do Michigan Supreme Court Judges Earn?
In May 2023, a state panel voted to give Supreme Court justices in Michigan a pay raise. The panel voted 5-2, favoring a decision to offer justices a 7% pay raise, including a $10,000 expense allowance for each justice.
The panel members made a strong point to back up their decision and were convinced that the time was right for judges in the state to have a pay raise. They argued that the wages of justices haven’t kept up with inflation.
If the legislators agree to sign the recommendation, the annual salary for all seven justices on the high court would rise from $181,483 to $194,187 in 2025 and $207,780 in 2026.
According to state Officers Compensation Commission data, the average pay for Supreme Court judges nationwide is currently $219,012.
The panel comprises seven individuals appointed by the governor to recommend pay rates for top elected officials in Michigan. And they meet once every two years.
Unfortunately, the panel didn’t recommend salary changes for the governor, attorney general, lieutenant governor, state lawmakers and secretary of state.
Note that the governor and other officials mentioned have not had a pay rise since 2002 and had a 10% pay cut in 2020. So, it was strange for the panel to opt against recommending a pay raise for them.
Here’s what judicial officials
Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement and Judge Brian Zahra were keen on the increase in the salaries of judicial officers, citing that inflation has eroded their salaries substantially.
The commission recommended a 5% salary raise in 2018 for the justices, but Clement felt the raise represents a small dent in the salary gap compared to judges’ salaries in other areas.
Clement provided a presentation that captured her current pay of $181,483, compared to a federal circuit judge’s salary of $246,600.
She noted that if her salary doesn’t increase, there would be a 50% gap between her salary and that of a federal circuit judge by 2028.
Can You Appeal A Michigan Supreme Court Decision?
You cannot appeal a Michigan Supreme Court decision if it involves the state. The Supreme Court remains the court of last resort. This means it makes the final decisions about the state law’s interpretation.
It is impossible to appeal a Supreme Court decision involving the state. You can only do so in cases involving legal questions about the United States Constitution.
Examples of such federal issues may include the First Amendment, such as freedom of press, speech, petition, assembly, and religion. Another example is the Fourth Amendment, which includes search and seizure.
A Handy Tip: A party or individual that thinks the Michigan Supreme Court hasn’t interpreted the Constitution correctly may appeal their case to the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States).
Note also that only a few cases make it to the federal Supreme Court after being decided by the state Supreme Court. In addition, such legal matters must-have national relevance, too.
What Does The Michigan Supreme Court Do?
The Supreme Court is the highest in the state. It has jurisdiction over cases decided by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Thus, it reveals most cases from the Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court also hears cases relating to judicial misconduct and some cases of original jurisdiction, like the case in a bypass appeal. The Supreme Court has the power over all Michigan state courts.
A Handy Tip: The Michigan Supreme Court, founded in 1836, has seven judgeships. Elected judges can serve two terms, each being eight years.
The Michigan Supreme Court election is a highly competitive election. In addition, only seven judges serve in the state’s Supreme Court.
Supreme Court judges can serve two terms, each term being eight years. Thus, a judge who has only served one term can request re-election and be added to the ballot.
On the ballot, incumbency is included when a sitting judge is seeking re-election, but you can never find political parties indicated on the ballot. The selection of the candidates is partisan, while the voting is nonpartisan.
In the 2022 election, Justice Richard Bernstein and Brian Zahra won re-election. Five judges partook in the election, but only two were elected.