Our endorsements: Mich. Supreme Court
Michigan's Supreme Court has become a refuge from partisanship. The seven justices — five nominated by Republicans and two by Democrats — have consistently found common ground in their work to interpret and apply the law.
This court reached roughly half its verdicts by unanimous agreement. And in cases where the justices are divided, last term not once was it along the 5-2 party split. In addition, the court has earned high marks for its fairness and independence.
Collegiality and competence begin with the personalities on the court. That's why it is essential for Michigan voters to retain the two incumbent justices who are on the ballot Nov. 4.
Justice David Viviano, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder after Diane Hathaway was convicted of real estate fraud, is running to fill out the remaining four years on that term. He is opposed by Deborah Thomas, a judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court. Thomas does an adequate job on the circuit court, but lacks the skills required of a Supreme Court justice.
Viviano, a former Macomb County Circuit Court judge, has been a valuable addition to the court and has fully embraced its cooperative spirit.
He has a reputation as a careful listener with a deep respect for precedent and the intent of lawmakers.
Viviano has a particular interest in and affinity for the administrative work of the state court system that is the responsibility of the Supreme Court. He's taken a leadership role in tackling the complicated question of how to organize a statewide e-filing system for lawsuits and motions.
He's written independently on a number of legal issues, showing a broad interest in all of the areas of law the court considers.
The other race on the ballot is for the two full-term seats.
Justice Brian Zahra holds one of those positions currently, and the other is held by retiring Justice Michael Cavanagh.
The court has been on an upward swing of collegiality since Zahra's arrival in 2010, when he was appointed by Snyder to replace Maura Corrigan when she became the state's health and human services director.
He has not been a predictable vote for any constituency or partisan group, closely following the law.
Zahra has been a leader in explaining the court's reasons for reversing lower court rulings, which helps those courts, attorneys and litigants understand the rules. That's how stability and predictability in the legal system is obtained.
The three other major candidates for the two seats are Richard Bernstein, scion of the "Call Sam" law firm, and Appeals Court Chief Judge Bill Murphy, nominated by Democrats, and Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Robert Redford, nominated by Republicans.
Bernstein works in his family's law firm, gaining note for his pro-bono civil rights work. He's also a former trustee of Wayne State University. But he lacks the judicial experience of the other candidates.
Picking between Murphy and Redford is difficult. Both have been outstanding judges.
Our preference is for Murphy because of his appellate and administrative experience. And because of his age — he's 69 — he can only serve one term. Justices can't run after their 70th birthday. That provides him with a level of independence we find attractive.
To preserve the current values of the Supreme Court, voters should return Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra and add Judge Bill Murphy.