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Retired Justice Young lobbied to challenge Stabenow

Michael Gerstein, and Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young Jr. is being lobbied to run against Democrat U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018.

“His name has been brought up … as a potential candidate,” GOP consultant Stu Sandler said Friday. “Bob Young is a great guy. He’s been a solid justice on the court, and he’d make a great candidate.”

The 66-year-old Detroit native retired Monday after spending 18 years on the state’s high court, where legal experts said he helped cement a conservative legal philosophy on the court. Young created a new era of collegiality between Democrat-nominated and GOP-nominated justices, resulting in an unprecedented three consecutive two-year terms of being chosen chief justice by his colleagues.

He was the high court’s fourth African-American justice and the first one appointed by a GOP governor.

“He’d be a fantastic candidate,” said Dave Doyle, executive vice president of the Michigan Resource Group, a public relations firm, and a former Michigan Republican Party chairman.

“He is a tremendous legal mind, showed that as chief justice of the Supreme Court he could work very well with not only his conservative colleagues on the bench but his liberal colleagues,” Doyle said. “He’s got a proven track record.”

Tom Shields, president and founder of MRG who considers Young a good friend, said the retired justice made no mention of a desire to run for U.S. Senate during a recent conversation.

“Who knows, though?” Shields said. “Bob has got a lot of energy, but I got all the feeling in the world, all the direction in the world, he was pretty committed to retirement.”

Young was set to return to private appellate practice at the Dickinson Wright law firm.

If he did decide to challenge Stabenow, Young would be a “marvelous candidate,” Shields said. “He’s such a smart guy. I think he would have been a great U.S. Supreme Court justice too if he had been tapped by the Trump administration.”

As a candidate, Trump included Young on a list of 21 judges, justices and other officials he would consider appointed to the nation’s high court. Young dismissed his chances by saying he was too old.

High court justices aren’t normally prepared for the rough and tumble of politics, but Young has been subjected to politically charged attacks while on the court.

In 2000, the Michigan Democratic Party distributed a flier at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People dinner in Detroit that accused Young of opposing the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that desegregated public schools.

Young responded by releasing a letter he wrote to party leader Mark Brewer saying the flier’s contention was a “lie.” He said he supported Brown vs. Board of Education but agreed with the criticism that it was based “too much on sociology.”

Stabenow, who is running for a fourth term next year, finished the first quarter with a healthy $4.3 million cash in the bank, according to campaign finance reports. The 66-year-old Lansing-area Democrat raised nearly $1.3 million in the first three months of the year.

The Young development comes as multiple Michigan Republicans have been trying to recruit longtime southwest Michigan Congressman Fred Upton to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018.

Upton told The Detroit News on Thursday that he is flattered by the speculation but has not taken any concrete steps to form a campaign against Stabenow, who cruised to re-election in 2012 by defeating former Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland by more than 20 percentage points.

Upton said he appreciates the encouragement to run for the statewide office, but has so far “done nothing to either promote or begin to look at that — not even a pebble.”

His political team members haven’t done any polling on the potential matchup, the St. Joseph Republican said, or formed an exploratory committee or attempted to start raising money.

“I guess at some point we’ll consider it, but we don’t have any timeline, and I’m not here in Lansing today to do that,” Upton said outside the Michigan Capitol.

Doyle said Young might have an uphill battle against Upton’s financial advantage if he chose to run for the Republican nomination. Upton had more than $593,000 in cash on hand at the end of March and is a former chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee who raised nearly $3 million in his 2016 re-election campaign.

“Fred has a big advantage,” he said. “Got a lot of money in the bank, and that is always important in these races. But I’m sure there would be a lot of people lining up to contribute to Bob Young’s campaign if he were to make that decision.”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com