Gov. Gretchen Whitmer makes historic pick for Michigan Supreme Court vacancy

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has chosen state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden to fill a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve on the state's high court.

Whitmer, a Democrat, is announcing the selection on Tuesday. Bolden will succeed Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who revealed in September her plans to leave the court to become CEO of the New York-based American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution.

McCormack is a Democratic nominee, and Democrats maintained a 4-3 majority on the court in this month's election.

Whitmer described Bolden, a 34-year-old lawmaker from Southfield, as "passionate about the law." Bolden will be the youngest member of the Michigan Supreme Court and could hold a seat for more than three decades as justices can seek reelection until they reach the age of 70.

"She will bring a unique perspective to our high court as a Black woman — and as a new, working mom — that has too long been left out," Whitmer said. "Kyra is committed to fighting for justice for generations, and I know she will serve Michigan admirably, building a brighter future for her newborn daughter and all our kids."

State Rep. Kyra Bolden, D-Southfield, waves to the crowd after speaking during the Michigan Democratic Party's election night watch party at MotorCity Casino in Detroit. Bolden lost a campaign for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to appoint Bolden to a vacancy on the high court on Tuesday.

Bolden was a Democratic nominee for two seats on the Michigan Supreme Court in the Nov. 8 election. But she finished narrowly behind Republican-nominated incumbent Justice Brian Zahra for the second position.

Bolden got 22% of the vote. Zahra won 24%. Democrat-nominated incumbent Justice Richard Bernstein finished in first place with 34%.

For much of the campaign, Bolden ran for office while pregnant, giving birth in August.

First elected to the state House in 2018, she is a member of the House judiciary and insurance committees. Prior to serving in the House, she was a lawyer with Lewis & Munday P.C. in Detroit and worked as a staff attorney for Judge John Murphy in Wayne County Circuit Court and as a court-appointed criminal defense attorney for district court in Southfield. Bolden studied law at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

"I am incredibly honored to be chosen by Gov. Whitmer for this appointment to the Michigan Supreme Court,” Bolden said. “I will ensure equal access to justice, apply the law without fear or favor, and treat all who come before our state’s highest court with dignity and respect."

Bolden will serve a partial term expiring at noon on Jan. 1, 2025. If she wishes to complete the remainder of McCormack’s term, which expires on Jan. 1, 2029, Bolden will be required to run for the seat in the November 2024 general election.

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Whitmer’s appointment of Bolden to the Michigan Supreme Court marked a significant and consequential moment in the history of the state, said John Johnson Jr., executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

"As the first Black woman to serve in that capacity, she will bring a long-missing perspective to the deliberations of the state’s highest court," Johnson said in a statement. "That alone makes this a monumental decision, but Ms. Bolden brings more to the table than her racial identity."

Bolden's experience as a criminal defense lawyer and her leadership on public policy will inform her decisions, Johnson said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.