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The Michigan Daily - 3 Seats on Supreme Court up for Election

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The Michigan Daily - 3 Seats on Supreme Court up for Election

Louie Meizlish

With three incumbent justices on the ballot, the usually overlooked Michigan Supreme Court race has attracted a great deal of attention this year and candidates have pumped record amounts of money into their campaigns.

Three of the seven-member court's five Republicans are running to retain their seats, and each faces Democratic and Libertarian opposition.

Although the candidates' parties are not listed on the ballot, the three incumbent justices were nominated at the state Republican Convention while their challengers were each nominated at their own party's convention.

Justice Clifford W. Taylor, who is running for a full-eight year term, was appointed by Gov. John Engler in 1997 to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. He had served on the Michigan Court of Appeals since 1995.

He believes the role of a judge is to "interpret the law - not to make law." Taylor, who has been endorsed by the Police Officers Association of Michigan, said it is not the role of Supreme Court to make inquiries to "see if there's a technical reason" to throw out a criminal conviction.

Challenging Taylor is Democratic nominee Marietta Robinson, a specialist in medical malpractice law. Robinson has served as an adjunct professor at Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Law Schools.

Robinson contends she has never been politically active and promises to bring "fairness, experience, independence, good judgment and a complete lack of any political agenda to the office."

She said the Republican incumbents are "against individuals and in favor of special interests," namely insurance companies.

Also on the ballot is attorney Robert W. Roddis, who was nominated by the Libertarian Party. Roddis, a specialist in civil-business law who also made a run for the Supreme Court in 1992, is in favor of legalizing "drugs, pornography and religion."

The main issue in the race, Roddis said, is whether the justices uphold the constitution. "I don't think it's particularly ambiguous," he said. "I reject the idea that the constitution grows."

In the race for a partial four-year term, Justice Stephen J. Markman, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the court last year, is the Republican nominee.

Markman, who previously served as a judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals and as a U.S. attorney and assistant attorney general of the United States, said the most important issue in the election is the role of the judiciary.

"What do we want our justices to be doing?" he asked. "Do we want them to be exercising adult supervision or should they ... be interpreting the language of the law?"

In response to Democratic claims that the incumbents all speak with one mind, Markman said the justices show a lot of independence from one another and have a great deal of support for their hesitancy to throw out criminal cases simply over technical matters. "The three incumbent justices ... have the endorsement of every responsible law enforcement organization in the state," he said.

Democratic nominee Edward M. Thomas has been a Wayne County Circuit Court judge since 1990.

"I have always been independent and have never compromised my integrity for personal or political reasons in making judicial decisions," Thomas said on his campaign Website.

With respect to the incumbent justices seeking re-election, Thomas said "they are trying to limit access of individuals to courts."

"There's supposed to be diversity and independence of thought" on the court, he said. "It's really curious that the three of them go around together."

Libertarian nominee David H. Raaflaub has been a tenant and securities lawyer for 20 years.

He believes the most important issue in the Supreme Court race is the erosion of constitutional rights, especially the Second Amendment guaranteeing Americans the right to bear arms. The prohibition of marijuana, he believes, is a violation of the 10th Amendment.

"The constitution is being changed, but not by the process designated for doing so," Raaflaub said.

He also believes "night courts" should be established to better accommodate people who work during the day and want to represent themselves.

Seeking to serve the remaining two years of the term to which he was appointed in 1998, Justice Robert P. Young Jr. is a firm believer in judicial restraint. "The judiciary is not an auxiliary legislature, nor is the judiciary free to intervene in public policy decisions of the political branches and remake them," Young said.

Young previously served on the Michigan Court of Appeals and is a former corporate secretary and general counsel of AAA Michigan. He was also a regent at Central Michigan University.

E. Thomas Fitzgerald, the Democratic nominee, has served on the Michigan Court of Appeals since 1990. Thomas is also an adjunct professor at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing.

"There is no one running who has more experience than Tom Fitzgerald," said Michael Shore, a spokesman for the Fitzgerald campaign. Shore contends that, having been elected twice to the Court of Appeals, Fitzgerald "owes his allegiance to the people and no one else," while the incumbents are "wholly owned subsidiaries of the Chamber of Commerce" who "reword state law into a way that is favorable to big business."

Also in the race is Libertarian candidate Jerry J. Kaufman, who describes himself as a "civil rights labor, and consumers' action" attorney. He has lectured at the University of Michigan on exam writing and his campaign is totally self-financed. "The court does not need three to six months to issue a decision," Kaufman said. Rulings should be issued in two to four weeks, he said, and the court should be able to handle 450 cases per year instead of about 120 as it handles currently.

Kaufman said he refuses to engage in "mudslinging," arguing that political attacks tarnish the process of electing impartial justices. He promised that if elected he would return at least half of his pay to the Michigan State Treasury.

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