by Lucy Hough
Much more is at stake this upcoming election in Michigan than just who is to become governor. Though often a race that flies under the radar, two seats in the Michigan Supreme Court are up for re-election – and what comes of these seats will determine the political climate of the court for years to come.
Right now, the Michigan Supreme Court is considered conservative with a 4-3 majority, and this November’s election will provide an opportunity to change that.
Justices Robert Young and Elizabeth Weaver, both up for reelection, are considered more conservative. Though this election is considered non-partisan, nominees are put on the ballot typically by nomination from a political party, during conventions that won’t be held this year until August 28. According to Jay Kaplan, LGBT Project staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the two are likely to be nominated at the Republican convention.
The Democratic nominees, which will provide an alternative choice for voters, will not be known until that party’s convention on the same day in August.
But any option will make it possible for a majority shift – which could be especially beneficial to the LGBT community, which has seen friction from the conservative-leaning court since 1999. This majority contributed specifically in May 2008 when the state Supreme Court ruled that Proposal 2, which said that marriage in Michigan was only between a man and a woman, included domestic partner benefits, making it illegal for public institutions such as schools and government offices to grant basic benefits to same-sex partners.
Kaplan said he hopes that people will educate themselves on the candidates and the overall race, especially once more information as known as to the candidates, so that more people will vote for this often overlooked election. “People need to understand how this impacts their lives, and they have to educate themselves,” Kaplan said.
The justices elected will sit on the court for eight-year terms, so Kaplan warns that this election is especially important because it will set the tone for LGBT decisions in the future.
“If that configuration changes to more progressive justices, then we have a shot at the courts,” Kaplan said. “Right now, we have hit a brick wall.”
Progressive change, however, isn’t completely new to the court. In 2008, Judge Diane Hathaway won in an election against former Chief Justice Cliff Taylor. What was often assumed a guaranteed reelection for Taylor ended up being a huge upset for conservatives when Hathaway won the seat and the conservative majority became a little smaller.
For the LGBT community, this upcoming election is a clear opportunity to continue the progressive change that was started with Hathaway’s election.
Kaplan imagines that if the majority does shift, the LGBT community will see more claims being brought before the court and hopefully some former decisions being overturned. The only way this is possible, he said, is if people act and elect a more progressive court.
“It would be a shame, with this opportunity,” he said, “if we ended up with the same court.”