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November 06, 2006

Michigan election update

By James R. Copland

Bob Dorigo Jones, president of Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, sends in this update on tomorrow's elections in the Wolverine State:

The big news in the Michigan Supreme Court election this year is that there is no big news. The two incumbents who are running for election--one nominated by Republicans and one nominated by Democrats--are considered likely to be re-elected and have spent only a fraction of what incumbents have spent in recent years.

Altogether, the five candidates for the two seats on the state Supreme Court (2 Democrats, 2 Republicans and 1 Libertarian) have spent about $214,000 on their campaigns according to a report in the Detroit Free Press last week. Compare that to the nearly $15 million spent by all parties (including interest groups) in 2000 when there were three seats up for election, and it is clear that this election is much different from the heated, high-stakes elections we have seen in recent years.

The difference is that the trial bar believes it doesn't have a chance to change the balance on the court in this election. There is a 5-2 split on the court with the four justices having solid records on limiting the spread of liability beyond what the legislature authorizes and putting the clamps on frivolous lawsuits, and one being in that camp most of the time.

Of the two justices considered more pro-plaintiff, the one who is up for re-election, Michael Cavanagh, has been on the court for 23 years. A former Republican legislator who was chair of the House Judiciary Committee is running for the seat and would make a very good member of the high court. However, he faces an uphill race and considerable competition for funding from the two other high-profile statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate.

The GOP-nominated incumbent who is up for re-election, Maura Corrigan, is an excellent judge with a solid record on civil and criminal matters. She has also distinguished herself as a champion for children and families, and the plaintiffs' bar has not mounted a serious challenge to her seat. Instead, the plaintiffs' bar is spending heavily to re-elect the incumbent governor, Jennifer Granholm, who has already rewarded them by appointing members of the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association to the state Court of Appeals in her first term.

Because of the low likelihood of a change in the Supreme Court, and because so much money and attention is being focused on the gubernatorial election, Michigan's top political pundit, Bill Ballenger, characterized the election for Supreme Court in Michigan this way: "We're back to the sleepy old races we had in the early 1990s."

For those of us who are pleased with the make-up of the Supreme Court in Michigan and eager to stay heading in the same direction, that is a good thing.

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Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.