Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Finest Court in the Nation

An OpinionJournal article describes why the Michigan Supreme Court may well be the finest court in the nation, recognizing that the legislature makes laws, and it is just up to the courts to rule on those laws. They also recognize that respect for precedent is basic to the stability and predictability that is a prized achievement of the rule of law; but it can also turn into a rule of unreason, impeding necessary reform, and when it realizes an earlier decision was wrong, the Michigan Supreme Court has been willing to simply admit error and move on. In 1998, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a police officer can be the proximate "cause" of an accident when the driver of a fleeing car hits a third party. In the 2000 ruling in Robinson v. Detroit, it overruled its own precedent (5-2). "This Court has no obligation to perpetuate error simply because it may have reached a wrong result in one of its earlier decisions," wrote Justice Taylor (now chief justice). Elaborating further in Sington v. Chrysler Corp., a 2002 workers' compensation decision, Justice Taylor said: "We believe the constitutional arrangement in our state and nation reposes in the legislative body the role of making public policy. That arrangement is distorted when the judiciary misconstrues statutes. . . . [Upholding precedent here] is flawed because it gives the earlier Court and its judges far too much power--power beyond that which the constitution gave them." In the court's view, deference to precedent should be limited to cases in which reversals would be impracticable and have broad societal impact. While respecting legislative authority, the Michigan Supreme Court does not allow legislative or executive action to violate constitutional rights.

This is EXACTLY what a court should do. They should not legislate from the bench; if a judge wants to make law, he should resign from the bench, and run for the legislature. They should respect prescident, but not be afraid to overturn a bad decision. And while they should be respectful of legislative and executive branch authority, they should not allow legislative or executive action to violate constitutional rights.


Traverse City Attorney said...

Actually, the Michigan Supreme Court does legislate from the bench. The fallacy of your argument is that 'right and wrong' decisions can be so easily defined. In 99% of the situations, 'right and wrong' decisions are simply in the eye of the beholder. And when courts politically disagree with a law passed by the legislature, your thought they the court should be able to ignore the law as passed by a majority of the people is dangerous business indeed.

Michigan Supreme Court Commentary

Enrico Schaefer
Traverse Legal

Don Singleton said...

The courts should not do anything for political reasons. If a law passed by the legislature is in violation of the constitution, then they should say so, and if it is consistent with the constitution, then they should follow it, and decide cases based on what the legislature has passed.

I may agree with laws passed by the legislature, or I may disagree with them, but whether I agree or not, the legislature is the proper place to pass laws.

If they want to pass a law which is inconsistent with the constitution, then they should first seek to ammend the constitution.

Traverse City Attorney said...

Thanks for you email and response Don. I think we both agree. What you probably don’t know is that most attorneys and judges from both sides of the isle believe that our Michigan Supreme Court is nothing but a political tool for the right. Even those on the right are alarmed at the political nature of this court. By way of contrast, our US Supreme Court exercises tremendous restraint when it comes to legal precedent. A political court, whichever direction it leans, is dangerous business. And a new court that seeks to reverse alleged activism by a prior court merely makes the matter worse.

You might want to check out what a sampling of Michigan lawyers think of our esteemed court in a poll conducted by Lawyers Weekly here. Of course, we see these same results on the ground and in the court house every day.

Michigan Supreme Court Commentary

Don Singleton said...

The job of a judge is to judge. A judge should not "create new law". That is the job of a legislator, and if a judge feels he/she believes a law needs to be created to address something he/she sees as wrong, the judge should resign from the bench, and run for the legislature.

That is true whether the matter is left or right, liberal or conservative.

I don't want a judge to "make a law" that conservatives would approve of, any more than I want a judge to make a law that liberals would approve of.

And a judge should not be selected because we think they will make the right kind of laws.

If judges find something unconsitutional that you want to see happen, the solution is not to get new judges that will decide differently, but change the constitution.

Starie Decisis is good if the original decision was reached by applying the law as passed by the legislature, and it is consistent with the Constitution. But a decision that was made by a judge "making law" to please one party or another, should be subject to review