The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 21, 2000

Let's restore balance to Michigan Supreme Court

By The Building Tradesman

By John Hamilton
Detroit Building
Trades Council

For me, the month of January 1999 was the start of my three-year term as president of The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council.

It has been a great experience, and it has been a pleasure working with Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devlin, who works on behalf of all the building trades unions and really has the council moving in the right direction.

For all the working people in the State of Michigan, things haven't been so great since January 1999. That's when the balance of the state Supreme Court shifted from 4-3 Democratic to a 5-2 Republican majority. We anticipated a dramatic change, but the speed of the change has truly breathtaking, and the new makeup of the court has been almost completely negative for working people.

In cases that have gone before the Michigan Supreme Court:

  • Workers' compensation claimants have lost four out of four cases.
  • With personal injury cases - which are of tremendous importance to construction workers - plaintiffs have lost 12½ cases out of 13.
  • Insurance companies are batting eight for eight in terms of cases they have won.
  • In cases that have involved legal action by Gov. John Engler or the Republican-dominated state legislature: no surprise, the Republicans have won four out of four decisions.
  • Corporations are two for two in utility deregulation wins.
  • Civil rights plaintiffs have lost their only case before the court.

So, we know which way the majority of the court is leaning. Supposedly, judges are nonpartisan, but the Republican, anti-worker agenda of the majority of the court is the state's worst-kept secret. It is no coincidence that the five judges have voted together in 95 of the 98 decisions rendered by the court since 1997.

The court's conservative bias could not have come at a worse time for working people. In the next legislative term, Democrats and Republicans are going to reapportion how district lines are drawn throughout the state.

They will each try to redraw the boundaries to their own advantage, and their arguments will almost certainly wind their way up to the Michigan Supreme Court. A continued Republican bias on the court would allow the state GOP to have its way, which means they could redistrict the boundaries and keep Democrats in the minority for the next 10 years.

Voters will have the opportunity to vote on three state Supreme Court seats, and it so happens that they all belong to current justices who have anti-worker agendas. Here's the rap sheet on each:

Justice Robert Young has voted to force employees to give up their rights to file lawsuits over claims of unemployment discrimination on the basis of race or sex as a condition of getting a job. He approved of Engler's removal of the State Board of Education's responsibilities. Young served as a GOP lawyer when legislative and congressional lines were reapportioned in 1990-92. He served as general counsel to AAA-Michigan when the company attempted to take away consumer rights in 1992 and 1994.

Justice Cliff Taylor has an anti-employee, anti-civil rights, anti-consumer, anti-taxpayer and anti-consumer record. He has ruled to restrict consumers' ability to recover damages from injuries, prohibited a union from suing to protect the health and safety of its members, repeatedly upheld the denial of workers' comp benefits, and refused to apply protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act to a terminated employee.

Stephen Markman has a similar anti-worker, anti-consumer record. He has overturned jury verdicts for injured workers, restricted the rights of injured individuals to recover damages for their injuries, and like Young and Taylor is an active member of Federalist Society, an extremist group funded by Republicans and right-wing activists.

The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council has endorsed Thomas Fitzgerald, Marietta Robinson and Edward Thomas for the three state Supreme Court seats up for re-election. The Michigan Supreme Court has never been so out of balance - help us to tip the scales by going to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 7.