Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Jay Kaplan
On Nov 7, Michigan voters will be electing judges both locally and statewide. The most important of these decisions is for the Michigan Supreme Court, the ultimate authority regarding state law. Whoever is elected to the Michigan Supreme Court will serve an 8 year term, but the
effect of judicial opinions and interpretations can last for
generations. It is important for the LGBT community to educate ourselves about the the candidates for the two openings on the Michigan Supreme Court before voting in November.
Two of the judicial candidates – Justices Michael Cavanaugh and Maura Corrigan – currently serve on the Michigan Supreme Court. Their names will be at the top of the ballot.
The other candidates are Republican Mark Shulman, Democrat Jane Beckering, and Liberterian Kerry Morgan. Marc Shulman is a former Republican State House Representative, Jane Beckering is a Grand Rapids attorney specializing in medical negligence cases, and Kerry Morgan is a Wyandotte attorney. None of these candidates have served on the bench or have written legal opinions regarding LGBT rights.
However, we do know how one incumbent in particular, Justice Maura Corrigan, has hurt the cause of LGBT equality.
The current four justice majority – which includes Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, Stephen Markman, and Robert Young as well as Maura Corrigan – has essentially controlled interpretations of civil rights law since 2000 in Michigan. Whether the decision involved people’s private living arrangements, children’s rights, or employment discrimination, Corrigan has decided against the rights of LGBTs and others.
In Hoffius v. McCready (1999), for example, Corrigan joined a new Court majority to reverse an earlier decision in favor of landlords who want to discriminate against unmarried couples who live together.
Again in 1999, Corrigan ruled with the majority in Van v Zahorik that only legal parents or those married to legal parents can be recognized for purposes of custody or visitation. This wouldn’t be so bad if Michigan recognized second-parent adoption, but Corrigan made sure to
put a stop to that practice in 2002, when the Detroit Free Press reported that she ordered the Washtenaw County Circuit Court to stop allowing them. Corrigan has never publicly denied the Free Press report.
Corrigan has also joined the majority to rule that cities can’t be sued for sexual orientation discrimination even where their human rights ordinances prohibit this discrimination, and that the Washtenaw County Country Club had the right to fire a heterosexual golf pro because he
separated from his wife and moved in with another woman. In that case, the Court cited an 1846 law criminalizing adultery.
While Cavanaugh has consistently voted against the rights of LGBTs, Justice Michael Cavanaugh has voted in favor of them, opposing the conservative majority on every case listed above.
Clearly, Michigan’s Supreme Court holds the power to either strengthen the recognized civil rights of LGBTs and others – or to weaken them substantially. Because of the power they wield, it is very important for the LGBT community that we judge them – before they judge us.
Jay Kaplan is the staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project. The ACLU of Michigan does not endorse candidates for office.