In a groundbreaking move, the Michigan Supreme Court has issued an order requiring all judges to address individuals in court by the pronouns they use or employ "other respectful means." This historic decision, approved with a 5-2 majority, not only reinforces respect but also demonstrates Michigan's commitment to inclusivity.
The statewide rule allows parties and attorneys to use honorifics such as "Ms., Mr., or Mx." as preferred forms of address, in addition to gender-affirming pronouns. Alternatively, they can refer to individuals by their titles or roles in the case, along with their last names. The rule explicitly states, "Courts must use the individual's name, designated salutation or personal pronouns, or other respectful means" when addressing individuals, whether orally or in writing. It will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Michigan is now the first state to formally acknowledge and enforce personal pronouns in courtrooms, marking a significant milestone in LGBTQ+ rights. Justice Kyra Harris Bolden praised the new rule in an interview with NBC News, referring to the move as a "step in the right direction," emphasizing its role in making Michigan courts more welcoming and inclusive for all individuals.
In her written response, Justice Elizabeth Welch underscored the responsibility of judges as public servants to treat everyone with civility and respect, acknowledging that gender identity is a fundamental part of an individual's identity.
The decision has faced opposition. Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano raised concerns about the judiciary wading into a divisive political debate. Zahra argued that the rule was unnecessary, as the code of judicial conduct already mandates fair and respectful treatment of all individuals.
He also predicted potential legal challenges from judges with anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and suggested that the issue might ultimately find resolution in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Welch countered these objections, emphasizing that the rule allows judges to exercise discretion and to use gender-neutral terms when addressing individuals, thereby accommodating diverse beliefs.