High court hopeful’s abortion stance stirs up Mich. Democrats before convention
Lansing – — A decision by Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy to run for the Michigan Supreme Court has stirred up opposition from pro-abortion rights forces ahead of this weekend’s Democratic state convention.
The party’s Justice and Women’s caucuses have taken issue with Murphy’s apparent anti-abortion position. Debate over the Supreme Court nominations could become the Democrats’ version of the tea party-versus-establishment disputes expected at the GOP’s state convention Saturday.
“The Democratic Party should not nominate a candidate who does not support the rights of women to make their own choices about their reproductive health,” the liberal-leaning Justice Caucus said in a statement posted on its website.
The Women’s Caucus described Murphy as “an anti-choice 69-year-old white male,” while urging its members to carpool to Lansing and support a “pro-choice progressive candidate” to be announced later.
Their objections ran counter to an endorsement of Murphy this week from the Michigan Association of Justice, a trial lawyers group that often influences the party’s high court choices.
Murphy, who has served 26 years on the state appeals court and has been chief judge for three consecutive terms, told The Detroit News he believes his experience could benefit the Supreme Court.
“I don’t go about expressing my views on this issue or others,” Murphy said about abortion. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me or any other judge to commit to a position on any issue.”
An estimated 1,700 Democrats head into the weekend gathering here at the Lansing Center, where they’ll approve an otherwise uncontested slate of state office candidates, amid speculation an alternate nominee might emerge.
Macomb County Probate Judge Carl Marlinga confirmed he received “a couple of calls” about the Supreme Court nomination just before leaving on an extended family trip over the weekend, and “a couple more calls” when he returned. He said he was asked to consider running.
“I told them I would consider it,” Marlinga said. “That’s all I can say for now.”
Marlinga has pro-abortion rights credentials, having received a $5,000 contribution from the NARAL Pro-Choice America Political Action Committee during his unsuccessful 2002 run for Congress, according to the OpenSecrets.org website that tracks federal campaign contributions.
While intraparty debates of this nature aren’t unusual, Democratic leaders officially aren’t anticipating a nomination battle.
“We have three candidates announced for three (Supreme Court) spots,” said state party spokesman Josh Pugh. “As for now, we expect these three candidates will be our three candidates for the Supreme Court.”
The other two announced candidates for the three six-year Supreme Court terms up for election in November are Farmington Hills attorney Richard Bernstein and Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas. She is running for a partial two-year term.
Democrats are pushing for a unified fall campaign behind a ticket topped by former Congressman Mark Schauer for governor, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown for lieutenant governor and their U.S. Senate choice, Congressman Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.
Lansing-based consultant T.J. Bucholz said Democrats, cast in the role of outsiders, can separate themselves from the GOP incumbents who dominate state government.
“When your convention features non-incumbents ... it offers an excellent opportunity to make a case to the Michigan people about how you are different ... what you offer that’s better,” he said. “I think the Democrats are going to do that this cycle.”
But the high court nominations debate could provide some unscripted drama. Anti-abortion Democratic candidates have become increasingly infrequent in Michigan, and Schauer and Brown are pro-abortion rights candidates.
Murphy was an unsuccessful candidate for the high court in 1996 when, he said, Right to Life of Michigan was among several groups endorsing him. That 18-year-old nod from anti-abortion activists evidently has spurred the current opposition among some pro-abortion rights Democrats, he said.
What’s important, Murphy said, is that he’s a “rule-of-law judge” who follows the law on abortion as on other issues.
At 69, Murphy is eligible to serve just one term on the Supreme Court. Justices and appeals court judges can’t serve beyond the term in which they turn 70.
The other announced Democratic candidates at this weekend’s convention are:
■Michigan State University law professor Mark Totten of East Lansing for attorney general.
■Detroit civil rights attorney Godfrey Dillard for secretary of state.
■Incumbent State Board of Education vice president Casandra Ulbrich of Rochester Hills for re-election.
■Flint attorney Mike Behm and incumbent Chair Katherine White of Ann Arbor for University of Michigan Board of Regents.
■Incumbent Faylene Owens of East Lansing for Michigan State University Board of Trustees.
■Retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and University of Michigan law professor Dana Thompson for Wayne State University Board of Governors.
Candidates for the Supreme Court are nominated at state political party conventions but will be listed as nonpartisan candidates on Nov. 4 general election ballots.
When:Saturday and Sunday
Where:Lansing Center, Michigan Avenue near downtown
Time:8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to about 3:15 p.m. Sunday
Saturday:Constituency caucuses and congressional district meetings; state education and university board candidate choices; one Supreme Court candidate nomination
Sunday:Party platform adoption; selection of lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and two Supreme Court candidates