Filling an opening on the Michigan Supreme Court involves a lot less drama than it does for the federal high court. Basically, the governor picks the candidate he wants, with no approval needed from the Legislature.
Gov. Rick Snyder is in the process of weighing options to replace Justice Robert Young, who announced he will leave the bench by April 30 to enter private law practice.
Young’s departure is a significant loss for the court.
He was a leading voice for conservative legal principles, helped grow a collegial environment among the justices, and pushed the court to adopt efficiencies that made the legal system in Michigan more accessible and less expensive.
Young, who is African-American, was also the court’s only minority justice. His retirement will leave the court with four white men and two white women.
Finding a new justice of Young’s caliber is a challenge for Snyder for a number of reasons, but it’s made even more so by the necessity of maintaining diversity on the court.
Certainly, legal scholarship, character and temperament are the paramount qualifications Snyder should be seeking.
But Michigan is a racially and ethnically diverse state. Its highest court should reflect that diversity.
Simply put, it would be unseemly for Michigan to have a Supreme Court made up of all white justices. This isn’t about quotas or affirmative action. It’s a recognition that the justices of a court serving the people of a diverse state should reflect a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.
Since Michigan elects its Supreme Court justices, Snyder can not control what voters decide to do in 2018, when his appointee will have to stand for election to a full eight-year term.
He, can however, do his part by naming a qualified and competent justice who also brings a different personal perspective to the court.
That’s never an easy task for a Republican. Snyder will rightly want a conservative justice to replace Young. Michigan’s judicial and attorney ranks aren’t exactly overflowing with minority, conservative prospects.
But finding a candidate who answers all of the court’s needs, including diversity, is essential.