Robert P. Young Jr.: Administering law with order

Chief justice fostered cohesion and collaboration to Michigan’s high court, and streamlined court operations statewide

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A visionary, a consensus builder, a leader.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. built that reputation after a 21-year career in the Michigan judiciary by combining his love for the law with an unyielding commitment to the rule of law.

The 65-year-old Harvard Law School graduate has earned praise for restoring collegiality to a once-fractured state supreme court, replacing rancor and split decisions with cohesion and collaboration.

The proof? Court decisions rarely break along party lines with Young as a leader of the court.

Observers say the bow-tie donning jurist has kept the court in its place, recognizing that it is the Legislature’s job to make law and the court’s job to make sure the laws conform to the state constitution.

In his administrative role as chief judge, Young has streamlined the operation of state court across the state, bringing in innovation and technology to make the delivery of justice more efficient and less expensive for defendants and plaintiffs alike.

Young also has championed such promising alternatives as drug courts and veterans courts to address the root causes of crime.

“This is the way the judiciary needs to be going in general. These are problem-solving courts. We need more facilitation of disputes. These kinds of court model a different kind of adjudication for years to come,” Young said.

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Fellow Supreme Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack said Young jumped into administrative duties at the court with tremendous energy and enthusiasm. The state has more veteran’s courts than any other in the nation.

“He has really transformed the way courts do business in Michigan. Bob set out to think about how can we do business better for the people, how can they be more satisfied with their experience. He has worked very hard on outcomes and that takes a certain vision,” McCormack said.

Asked what he likes about his job, the chief justice — who is the highest-ranking African-American elected official in state government — says it’s about his love of the law.

“I feel blessed. The opportunity that my colleagues have given me to be chief justice for almost six years came around at just the right time. I love the law. I love being able to look at the hardest legal questions that are given to us in the state. I also like to do things,” Young said.

“Being chief allowed me to institute reforms that had been talked about for decades but no one got around to doing them. I’d rather do than talk.”

Jennifer Chambers

Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr.

Age: 65

Occupation: Chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Harvard University; Juris Doctorate, Harvard Law School

Family: Wife, Dr. Linda Hotchkiss; two adult children

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