Finley: GOP funders bully rule of law judge

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

If Michigan Republicans dump Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement from the GOP ballot in retaliation for not voting the way party bosses expected on the redistricting ballot proposal case, they can stop yapping about their preference for rule of law judges.

The claim will be exposed as all hot air and hypocrisy. 

Clement is under fire because she joined fellow Justices David Viviano, Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein in the majority opinion that the Voters Not Politicians measure meets the legal requirements for a spot on the ballot.

The newest justice was the target of intense and hugely inappropriate lobbying to side with the three dissenting justices, Stephen Markman, Brian Zahra and Kurt Wilder, in finding a legal technicality to keep the measure away from voters. The challenge was brought by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. 

Beth Clement, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief legal counsel, was picked to become a Michigan Supreme Court justice on Nov. 17, 2017.

Clement was threatened with the loss of campaign support from the GOP’s business donors. Her Republican-leaning fundraising firm dumped her. Fellow Republican Justice Kurt Wilder, who is also up for election in November, stopped campaigning with her.

To her immense credit, Clement resisted the pressure. She joined Justices David Viviano — also a Snyder appointee — and Democrats Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein in allowing the initiative to go forward.

And now the rumblings are the GOP will replace her as one of their two court nominees at the Aug. 25 convention. That would force Clement to run independently.

 It would be a sleazy move, and one that should appall those who believe a judge’s only loyalty should be to the law.

As for the ballot proposal itself, I think it stinks. It smells like a shadowy attempt by Democrats to seize control of the process of redrawing political district lines. 

It’s quite possible Clement and the justices who voted with her feel the same way. But they weren’t asked to decide whether the proposal was good policy.

Their job was to determine whether it met the requirements of state law.

In making that determination, the two Republican justices disappointed those who think having a 5-2 GOP majority on the court means every ruling should favor their interests. Otherwise, why invest so much money in getting justices elected? 

Viviano, who isn’t up for re-election this cycle, says the expectation that justices have an obligation to the parties that nominated them or those who fund their campaigns is out of line. 

“I’ve said 100 times on the campaign trail that you have to be willing to follow the law, to make the correct decision, even if it means you lose a friend, or lose the next election,” he says. “Our job isn’t to put our fingers in the wind and make the popular decision. It’s to follow the law.

“Beth followed the law and showed the courage of her convictions. Someone who says they want that kind of judge should want her on the court.”

That’s why the governor selected her last November, says his spokesman, Ari Adler, who adds Snyder continues to support the justice. “The governor appointed Beth Clement because he believed she would be a rule of law judge,” he says.

And she’s proved to be just that. Republicans have to decide if a rule of law judge is what they really want, or if they’re looking for a justice whose opinions they can buy.

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