Justice Clement, challenger Cavanagh headed for election to State Supreme Court

Sam Bagenstos, from top-left, Megan Cavanagh, Kurtis Wilder, lower-left, and Elizabeth Clement.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement and private attorney Megan Cavanagh appeared headed for election Wednesday for two spots on the state's high court.

Clement had 30 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Cavanagh at 25 percent and Republican-nominated Justice Kurtis Wilder at 24 percent with 96 percent of precincts reporting. Wilder said he conceded Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press still hadn't called the race.

Clement had 30 percent to 25.2 for Cavanagh. Wilder followed closely at 24.3 and Samuel Bagenstos was fourth at 11.4 percent  with 94 percent of precincts reporting. 

Natural Law Party nominee Doug Dern and Libertarian nominee Kerry Lee Morgan were also trailing.

Clement, 41, and Wilder, 59, are seeking election after being appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to fill vacancies. 

Clement is running to complete a term for now-6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Joan Larsen, while Wilder was tapped to replace retiring Justice Robert Young Jr., the court's third black justice

Republican-nominated justices hold a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court.

Sitting justices traditionally have an advantage in these elections because they are designated as incumbents on the ballot. Justices serve eight-year terms and are paid $164,610 annually.

The court handles about 2,000 cases a year.

Justices should not "legislate from the bench," said Clement, who was appointed 11 months ago by Snyder. 

Clement has been the strongest fundraiser among Republicans. She had pulled in $555,490 in contributions as of July 21 and had roughly $101,000 in cash reserves.

Wilder got a boost when he was endorsed by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, a Democrat. While the county prosecutor did not agree with his votes on some cases, she sees Wilder as a fair judge who protects crime victims' rights, Worthy said.

Wilder, an African-American, is the only racial minority in the race. He was a Michigan Court of Appeals judge for 18 years before being appointed by Snyder in 2017.

Sam Bagenstos, a Democrat and University of Michigan law professor, is considered a strong contender for one of the seats.

Bagenstos was one of the top fundraisers, having received more than $791,000 contributions for the latest cycle, and had more than $500,000 in cash reserves heading into the final weeks of the election.

Cavanagh, an appellate attorney, had raised roughly $406,000.

The Democratic-nominated candidates in this nonpartisan race have tried to take advantage and have raised competitive amounts of money.

Bagenstos has argued that the Republican majority on the high court has protected certain interest groups at the expense of everyday citizens,  and that the court has become an institution that protects the interests of big corporations over those of citizens.

Cavanagh, a member of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, said there is a need to reform the state criminal justice system, particularly the juvenile justice system, she said. The high court should lead the way in those reforms, said Cavanagh, who is a shareholder at the Detroit law firm of Garan Lucow Miller P.C.

Her father, Michael Cavanagh, was a state Supreme Court justice for 32 years.

Dern, a bankruptcy and criminal attorney in Hartland, said he would bring a different perspective to the court because he's "a lawyer out there every day that sees real injustice.”

Morgan, a private practice attorney in Wyandotte, said he wants to bring more respect for the written law and Constitution to the bench.