Our endorsement for Supreme Court: Clement and Cavanagh

The Detroit News

The importance of a truly independent state Supreme Court was driven home this year by an unsavory episode in which special interests groups attempted to strong-arm a justice they thought owed them something beyond a fair interpretation of the law.

The justice, Elizabeth Clement, was bullied by backers of a lawsuit to keep Proposal 2, the redistricting measure, off the fall ballot. She says she was threatened with the loss of political and financial support if she failed to vote in their favor.

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

That incident has caused us to give particular scrutiny to this year's Supreme Court candidates in search of justices who understand their only allegiance is to the law.

Two candidates who meet that test are Elizabeth Clement and Megan Cavanagh.

Clement was appointed to the court a year ago by Gov. Rick Snyder to replace the Justice Joan Larsen, who went to the federal appeals court.

She has proved to a fair-minded jurist who takes seriously the obligation to adhere to the law, and not go wandering off in search of interpretations she personally prefers or that would please those who might back her candidacy.

She showed courage in sticking to her view of what the law said, even when faced with threats that the Republican Party might deny her its nomination. In the end, she was nominated by the party, but has been widely shunned by the GOP and lost her fundraising consultant. 

The justice formerly served as Snyder's chief legal counsel, and worked on the staffs of former Senate majority leaders Mike Bishop and Mike Rogers. Given her partisan background, Clement might be expected to lean toward the GOP in her decisions.

The Michigan Supreme Court.

That’s not the case. Justice Clement decides cases on the merits.

Snyder made a wise choice in naming Elizabeth Clement to the court. Voters should reward her independence by electing Clement to her first full term as a Supreme Court justice.

For the second spot on the bench, we endorse Megan Cavanagh, an attorney from Grosse Pointe. 

Megan Kathleen Cavanagh

This was a difficult decision. We have long supported Justice Kurt Wilder, another Snyder appointee appearing on the ballot for the first time.

But Wilder too easily bowed to GOP influence in the Prop 2 case, and to pro-gun activists in a ruling that upheld the Legislature's clear intent to allow school districts to set their own policies on open carry in their buildings. 

Cavanagh promises to be less pliable as a justice. Though nominated by Democrats, she is not a legal activist. She has spent her 18-year career as a defense attorney representing businesses.

That experiences gives her an understanding of the importance of clarity and consistency from the court. Businesses need a stable legal environment in which to make long-term investments.

Cavanagh, the daughter of retired Supreme Court Justice Mike Cavanagh, respects precedent and is not likely to view the court as a policy making body. She should be elected. 

The fourth candidate in the race, Sam Bagnestos, is nominated by Democrats. A University of Michigan professor, Bagnestos is a terrific legal scholar and former deputy attorney general for civil rights during the Obama administration and a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.