Jacques: Run for Michigan Supreme Court next for Bill Schuette?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lost his bid to become governor last fall, is said to be weighing a run for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2020.

That's the hottest speculation on the island as Republicans gather for their biennial state convention. Much of the mission for the weekend is to recruit candidates for next year's ballots, and the GOP has been struggling to attract the sort of big names that will give their ticket heft — and fundraising legs.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette

Schuette would do both. Asked by a reporter whether he's considering the race, Schuette was evasive. But he didn't deny his interest, saying he's worried about the direction of the court.

"My big concern is how the court has shifted away from the strong rule of law court it was under (former Gov. John) Engler," Schuette said. "I'd like to see it return to that type of court. It's important for Michigan."  

Several sources close to Schuette say he is strongly considering a run and that they wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a formal declaration of his candidacy soon — perhaps even this weekend.

The Supreme Court will be a key race in 2020. Republican-nominated justices currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court, which is frequently called on to settle policy disputes.

Two seats will be up for grabs, but Republicans won't have an incumbent on the ballot, due to the retirement of Justice Steven Markman, who was appointed by Engler in 1999. Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, who was nominated by Democrats, must stand for reelection, and will be the only incumbent in the race. 

While Schuette has no formal role at the GOP conference, he is hosting a reception, typically something political hopefuls do to court supporters.

If he runs and wins, Schuette, 65, would be able to serve only one, eight-year term. Michigan law prevents justices from running after they reach age 70.

But one term would be could enough for party leaders desperate for marquee candidates in 2020.

Along with court nominees, Republicans are hunting for contenders capable of reclaiming the two U.S. House districts they lost in 2018 to Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens, and someone who can hold the seat of retiring Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden.  

The GOP also needs a dozen new state House candidates to replace term-limited incumbents. It currently holds a 58-52 majority in the chamber, an advantage that was significantly whittled after the 2018 balloting.  

Schuette has been largely out of the public eye since his failed gubernatorial bid. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Schuette decisively, posting a 10-point margin of victory.

But he began hinting this summer that he was likely to be tackling a larger political role soon, including the possibility of helping lead President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Michigan. Schuette, who switched his support to Trump after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the 2016 presidential race, was endorsed by the president.

He would be a strong contender for the open Supreme Court seat, given his name recognition and established campaign structure. Prior to serving two terms as attorney general, Schuette served on the state Court of Appeals, was a congressman from mid-Michigan and was a member of the state Legislature.