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Published: Thursday, 1/15/2009

Balance on the court

FOR the last few years, Michigan's Supreme Court has been perhaps the most disgracefully partisan in the nation. Hard-line ideological Republicans held four of the seven seats, and voted in lockstep. There were two liberal Democrats who voted against them. Only one justice, Republican Elizabeth Weaver, has had an independent voting history, which earned her harsh, sometimes disgracefully personal, criticism from her GOP colleagues.

Perhaps the court's lowest point came last year, when it was asked to uphold a plan for Michigan's presidential primary that would have appeared unconstitutional to any bright high school civics student.

The bill establishing the primary called for furnishing the major political parties with lists revealing what citizens voted for which party, but forbade releasing that information to the general public. The Gang of Four cheerfully upheld that, though they were speedily and properly reversed by a federal court.

Then, in November, in a stunning upset, Chief Justice Cliff Taylor, leader of the Republican gang, was defeated in a landslide by Wayne County Circuit Judge Diane Hathaway.

Michigan rotates the position of chief justice, generally every two years. The GOP plan had been for another member of the gang to succeed Justice Taylor as chief but, last week, Justice Weaver joined the three Democrats to elect Marilyn Kelly. This was a fortunate development. The new chief justice, who is 70, has earned a reputation for fairness and integrity. Though supported by the Democratic Party, she has perhaps the most judicial temperament on Michigan's high court.

Though the change was gratifying, it does not address the main flaw with Michigan's Supreme Court: Right now, it is disgracefully political by design, with the major parties choosing and funding the candidates, some of whom are elected and arrive in Lansing having never served on any bench before.

Justice should not be partisan - at any level. That's something Michigan voters ought to address via a constitutional amendment, and it should happen sooner rather than later.

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