Michigan

June 2, 2022
Current partisan makeup% Justices of Color
4D-3R0%
JusticePartyTerm ExpirationMandatory Retirement
David Viviano20242048
Richard Bernstein  D  20222048
Bridget Mary McCormackD20282036
Elizabeth ClementR  2026 2047
Brian Zahra R2022 2030 
Elizabeth WelchD 2028 2044
Megan CavanaghD 2026 2042

The Michigan Supreme Court has been essential in securing the rights for all Michiganders. The Court has consistently acted as a check on corporate power and secured all individuals’ rights to clean water, fair elections, proper representation, and employment protections.  

Most importantly, the Court has been a critical check on partisan gerrymandering and ensured every citizen’s right to an equal voice in their elections and government. One key decision by the Court allowed a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission to stay on the November 2018 ballot. This proposal was in response to decades of political gerrymandering in Michigan. It would create an independent 13-member commission, with 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 5 people who do not identify with either party. By permitting the proposal to stay on the ballot, the Court ensured voters were able to determine how their district maps were drawn. This decision safeguarded all Michiganders’ voting rights and strengthened public trust and the integrity of their political representation. In another case, the Court permitted the City of Detroit’s proposed charter, including issues ranging from clean water to affordable housing and transit, to appear on the ballot. By upholding the charter, the Court empowered Detroit voters to have a bigger and direct impact on how their government works. And amidst the lawsuits challenging the 2020 presidential election results, the Court bolstered public faith in elections and safeguarded free and fair elections in Michigan by twice denying partisan requests to delay the certification of the results.  

One of the most impactful decisions by the Court protected the residents of Flint, Michigan, ensured their access to clean and safe drinking water, and upheld their rights to hold the government accountable for its role in allowing corporations to contaminate the Flint River and then downplaying the severity of the lead contamination. Recognized as one of the worst public health crises in recent history, Flint residents were poisoned with lead-tainted drinking water for over five years, yet government officials downplayed and concealed the crisis, refusing to address the health and safety risks it posed. When Flint residents sought to exercise their rights in court to hold their government accountable for its actions, the Court was essential in upholding their rights by permitting the lawsuit to move forward against the state and state officials, ultimately leading to a $600 million settlement. Without this decision, Flint residents would have been denied any legal avenue to seek justice for their communities sickened and endangered, allowing the state to evade accountability for ignoring this environmental disaster and violating communities’ rights to safe, clean drinking water.  

The Court has been essential in safeguarding workers’ rights and combatting unfair labor practices. Forced arbitration is one of the most notorious practices perpetuating corporate power abuses, eliminating an employee’s ability to go to court against their employer to seek recourse for harm done to the employee. While courts are open to the public and must follow precedent, forced arbitration happens behind closed doors and arbitrators need not align their decisions with past rulings. In a recent decision, the Court ruled that an employer could not enforce an arbitration agreement against former employees who alleged sexual harassment and assault. This was an important victory for workers because forced arbitration often hides these disputes from the public and rarely provides any means of accountability.  

The Court was also essential in protecting students and preventing gun violence. In a recent decision, the Court enabled Ann Arbor and Clio school districts to enforce safety measures prohibiting guns on school grounds. This decision returned power to individual school districts to address the needs and safety of the communities they serve. 

In all of these cases, the Court empowered everyday citizens to seek justice and protected the voice and vote of all Michiganders. It’s paramount to have a Court that will not bend the law to favor the wealthy and powerful, but rather is led by justices who understand the impact of their decisions on every Michiganders. From safety in schools to stopping unfair labor practices to protecting clean water to ensuring free and fair elections, it’s clear the Court affects nearly every aspect of Michiganders’ daily lives and constitutional rights. 

Michigan elects their Supreme Court justices via non-partisan elections. However, each political party nominates a candidate to move forward to the general election even though there is no official party designation on the ballot.  

If an unexpected vacancy occurs, then the governor will appoint a justice to the court. The appointed justice will have to stand at the next general election. In the general election, there may be challengers to the appointed justice. It is then up to voters to decide who they want to sit on the bench.  

Bridget Mary McCormack, Chief Justice  
Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2012 and joined the Court in January 2013. She became Chief Justice in January 2019. In November 2020, she was re-elected for a second eight-year term. McCormack’s current term expires on January 1, 2029.  

Legal Career 

  • McCormack began her legal career as a public interest lawyer in New York working with the Office of the Appellate Defender and the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society. She then spent most of her career in academia. McCormack was a Cover Fellow at Yale Law School where she also led Yale’s clinical programs. She then returned to Michigan and was on the faculty of University of Michigan Law School. She was a professor at the school before being named Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs. She served in that capacity until her election to the Michigan Supreme Court. While at the law school, McCormack founded the Michigan Innocence Clinic

David Viviano, Justice 
Justice David F. Viviano was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the Michigan Supreme Court on February 27, 2013, to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Diane Hathaway. The people of Michigan elected him in November 2014 to serve out the remaining two years of Hathaway’s term and re-elected him in November 2016 to a full eight-year term. His current term expires on January 1, 2025.  

Legal Career

  • Upon graduation from law school, Viviano worked in private practice at two firms. He then founded his own firm focusing on commercial and criminal litigation, zoning, and real estate law. Viviano also served as city attorney for the city of Center Line. Then, Viviano served on the Macomb County Circuit and Probate Courts as a trial judge until his appointment to the Supreme Court.  

Richard Bernstein, Justice 
Justice Richard Bernstein was elected to serve an eight-year term on the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2014 and assumed office on January 1, 2015. His current term ends on January 1, 2023.   

Legal Career 

  • After graduating from law school, Bernstein joined the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, the family law practice, and helped establish the Public Service Division. While at the firm, Bernstein had a prolific pro bono practice protecting the rights of people with disabilities. He remained there until his election to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2014. Bernstein personally identifies as a person with a disability and was the first blind justice elected by voters statewide to the Michigan Supreme Court.  

Elizabeth Clement, Justice  
Justice Elizabeth T. Clement was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2017, to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Joan Larsen. In November 2018, she was elected to a full eight-year term that expires on January 1, 2027.  

Legal Career  

  • After graduating from law school, Clement was a legislative aide to Michigan Senate Majority Leader, Mike Rogers. Clement then founded her own law firm focusing on family law, adoption, probate, estate planning, and criminal law. She also served in the Michigan Senate Majority Policy Office and provided analysis and research to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Health Policy Committee, and Senate Local and State Affairs Committee. Before her appointment to the Court, Clement served as Governor Rick Snyder’s chief legal counsel.  

Brian Zahra, Justice  
Justice Brian K. Zahra was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the Michigan Supreme Court on January 14, 2011. The people of Michigan subsequently elected him in November 2012 to a partial term and re-elected him in November 2014 to a full eight-year term. His current term expires on January 1, 2023.  
 
Legal Career   

  • Upon graduation from law school, Zahra clerked for Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. After, Zahra joined the law firm Dickinson, Wright, Moon, Van Dusen & Freeman. He eventually became a partner, specializing in commercial and product liability litigation. Zahra then served as a judge on the Wayne County Circuit Court. He later served as a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals until his appointment to the Supreme Court. 

Elizabeth Welch, Justice  

Justice Elizabeth M. Welch was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2020 and assumed office in January 2021. Her current term expires on January 1, 2029.  

  • After law school, Welch practiced labor and employment law at large firms. Then, she started her own law firm in Grand Rapids, MI, practicing primarily labor and employment matters. She worked in that capacity until her election to the Court in 2020.   

Megan Cavanagh, Justice  

Justice Megan K. Cavanagh was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2018, with a term beginning in January 2019. Her current term expires on January 1, 2027.  

  • After law school, Cavanagh entered private practice and became a top appellate lawyer and shareholder at Garan Lucow Miller P.C. in Detroit, Michigan. As an appellate attorney, she primarily handled civil defense cases. In 2018, Cavanagh was elected to the Supreme Court.  
  • Lichon v. Morse (2021)- Workers 

    The Court ruled that an employer could not enforce an arbitration agreement against former employees who alleged sexual harassment and assault. This was an important victory for workers because forced arbitration agreements oftentimes keep sexual harassment cases out of court and out of the public awareness, silence victims, and allow sexual harassers to evade accountability.   
  • Mays v. Governor of Michigan (2020)- Environment  

    Residents of Flint, Michigan, one of Michigan’s poorest communities, were poisoned with lead-tainted water and Michigan officials subsequently downplayed and concealed the crisis. The Supreme Court ruled that the residents could move forward with their lawsuit against the state and various state officials, which ultimately led to a $600 million settlement. The Court’s decision highlighted the importance of ensuring communities have access to safe drinking water and paved the way for Flint residents to receive some measure of justice.  
  • Johnson v. Vanderkooi  and Harrison v. Vanderkooi (2018)- Criminal Justice  

    The Court ruled that a police department’s “photograph and print” practice —which consisted of taking photographs and collecting fingerprints of people who had not been charged with a crime and then storing their personal biometric data — may be unconstitutional if the stop is made without probable cause and that the local government could be sued for violating a person’s constitutional rights based on the practice. 
  • Johnson v. Secretary of State (2020)- Voting Rights & Democracy  

    The Court denied requests seeking to delay the certification of Michigan’s 2020 presidential election results.  
  • Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v. Secretary of State (2018)- Voting Rights & Democracy  

    The Court ruled that a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission could appear on the November 2018 ballot. After the state’s political boundaries were last drawn in 2011, Republicans in Michigan had grown significant congressional and legislative advantages, despite an evenly divided electorate. By permitting the ballot initiative to move forward, the Court safeguarded the voting rights of Michiganders and enabled voters to improve the health of Michigan’s elections and democracy.  
  • Sheffield v. Detroit City Clerk(2021)- Voting Rights & Democracy  

    The Court ruled 4-3 that the City of Detroit’s proposed charter, which addressed issues such as water access, affordable transit, affordable housing, and responsible contracting, could appear on the primary election ballot. This decision enabled Detroit voters to have a bigger say in how their government functions by upholding their constitutional right to decide charter issues.  
  • Constantino v. City of Detroit (2020)- Voting Rights & Democracy  

    The Court denied relief to parties seeking an audit of the 2020 election in Wayne County, Michigan. This ruling was significant because it allowed the certification of the county’s election results to proceed, safeguarding free and fair elections in Michigan.   
  • Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v. Secretary of State (2018)- Voting Rights & Democracy  

    The Court ruled that a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission could appear on the November 2018 ballot. After the state’s political boundaries were last drawn in 2011, Republicans in Michigan had grown significant congressional and legislative advantages, despite an evenly divided electorate. By permitting the ballot initiative to move forward, the Court safeguarded the voting rights of Michiganders and enabled voters to improve the health of Michigan’s elections and democracy.  
  • Progress Michigan v. Attorney General (2020)- Good Governance  

    The Court ruled that personal emails for official government business are not exempt from Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This decision allows Michigan residents to hold their elected officials accountable and promotes a more transparent government.   
  • Check your registration status here. Not registered? You can register to vote online at this website. Michigan has open primaries, meaning you do not need to declare your party affiliation when registering to vote. Voters may only participate in one party’s primary per election. Your state primary election is on August 2, 2022. Michigan has same-day voter registration, meaning you can register to vote on Election Day until 8:00 pm at your city or township clerk’s office. If you’re applying to vote in a way other than in-person, then your registration application must be postmarked by July 18, 2022.  
  • Michigan’s general election will be held on November 8, 2022. Your last day to register, in any other way than in-person at your local clerk’s office, is October 24, 2022.  
  • Make your plan to vote. In Michigan, you can vote by mail ballot, vote in person early at your local election clerk’s office, or in-person at your polling place on Election Day.  
  • If you’re unable to go to the polls or just want to vote by mail ballot, you can find more information on absentee voting here.  
  • You can also vote early in-person with an absentee ballot at your local election clerk’s office within the 40 days before an upcoming election. You can find more information on finding your clerk’s office here.  
  • If you want to vote in-person on Election Day, make sure you know your polling place. Check your polling place here.  
  • Make sure you look all the way down your ballot! Supreme Court races are generally at the bottom!