A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

While statewide ballot proposals get most of the attention, the state's fortunes could be altered by another vote on Tuesday.

Most of the attention to the possibility of altering the state constitution has been given to the five proposals that could do so, but control of the state Supreme Court also could have an effect on the state's guiding document.

That would happen if two or more activist judges are elected to the state Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court majority, which is currently held by justices nominated or appointed by the Republican Party, changes with the election of two or more candidates nominated by the Democratic Party, the interpretations of constitutional questions could tilt in favor of unions, trial lawyers and other left-leaning factions.

"I don't want to see the court's philosophy change from its current rule-of-law approach," Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said. "My concern is that, if liberal judges are elected, they could start making up laws instead of doing their job, which is to interpret the law.

"As conservatives, we know the importance of having rule-of-law courts," he said. "Clearly this is a separation of power issue. It's very important for everyone, and especially from the legislative stand-point."

Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said he thinks he has a pretty good idea of what would happen if activist judges gained control of the state Supreme Court.

"We got a brief taste of it a couple of years ago in the last days of the administration of Jennifer Granholm," Owens said. "This was when the court went through all of its turmoil with former Justice Elizabeth Weaver."

Over the years, Republican-nominated Justice Weaver had clashed with her conservative colleagues on the bench. In August 2010, she resigned, which allowed then-Gov. Granholm to replace her with Alton Davis, giving activist justices a majority on the Supreme Court.

The result of the 2010 elections reversed the situation. But in the weeks between Election Day and the end of the year, the activist court took up key cases.

"The court rushed through decisions, such as voiding legislative intent that it is improper for school districts to deduct dues for the MEA (Michigan Education Association)," Owens said. "It also ruled that teachers could use the taxpayer-funded email and computer systems for union business."

Although political parties nominate candidates for the state Supreme Court, they are elected from the nonpartisan portion of the ballot. Often, voters mistakenly believe that when they choose to vote a straight party ticket, they have voted for their party's Supreme Court candidates. That's not the case. To cast votes in judicial races, a voter must continue on to the nonpartisan part of the ballot.

Three justices will be elected to the Supreme Court this year. That means nearly half of the seats on the high court are up for grabs.

Of those on the ballot, two are incumbents. They are Republican-nominated Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra. The third Republican-nominated candidate is Colleen A. O’Brien.

The three Democrat-nominated candidates are Bridget Mary McCormack, Colleen Marie Kelley and Shelia Johnson.

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See also:

Secret Democrat Supreme Court Plan: Run Irish Women Candidates

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