What is your overall judicial philosophy?
My philosophy is one of judicial restraint. In our democracy, the legislature has primary responsibility for resolving the issues that divide society. My role as a justice is to decide cases according to the expressed intent of the legislature. If the case has a constitutional issue, my role is to find the expressed intent of the drafters as approved by the ratifiers. While the constitution necessarily speaks in broader terms than most statutes, it too is a democratically enacted law. I reject the notion of a living constitution that stays current with the times; that is a license for the judiciary to assume the power of amendment. The only time I decide a case according to my own lights is when there are no applicable statutes or constitutional provisions. Here too, I am not totally free to decide the issue as I might choose. Among other things, I have to decide a common law case with the guidance of precedent.
Which United States Supreme Court Justice, past or present, would you compare your judicial philosophy to?
I would compare my judicial philosophy to that of Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. He has provided the most comprehensive development of an approach to judicial interpretation, textualism, that honors our constitutional framework.
Why are you qualified for this position?
I have over 14 years' experience as an appellate judge (Court of Appeals 1992-1998, Supreme Court 1999-present) and 33 years as an attorney. Our court has won national recognition for its transformative work ("finest Supreme Court in the nation," Wall Street Journal, 10/05). I am the only person in Michigan history who has served as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I have been named "Michigan Judge of the Year" (2006, Michigan Family Support Council), "Jurist of the Year" (Police Officers Association of Michigan, 2006) and Michiganian of the Year (Detroit News, 2005).
What improvements do you believe could be made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the state court system?
Michigan's trial courts would benefit from greater use of the statutory "local option" plan for court unification and for concurrent jurisdiction, so that trial judges would be available locally to move the dockets. We currently have 14 such plans in operation, but more can be done to efficiently distribute judicial resources.
Do you believe that all citizens have adequate access to legal help and the legal system? If not, what can be done to provide wider and better access?
Over the past 40 years, our circuit court new filings have quadrupled, from 86,000 (1966) to 331,000 (2006). Our courts are awash in cases, especially cases in the family division. Michigan citizens have far greater access to the courts than in the past. In many instances, litigants proceed without counsel. This lack of professional assistance does hamper effective presentation of their cases in the courts. If the Michigan economy improves, we must address the problem of pro se representation with better training and greater access to legal counsel.