High court, high road


Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway, a Democrat, has been one of the biggest disgraces in the history of her state’s high court — a body that cannot afford further embarrassment. How Gov. Rick Snyder chooses to replace her will either compound or start to improve the court’s sorry image.

Ms. Hathaway quit her seat last week. She is charged with criminal bank fraud in connection with real-estate transactions she and her husband, who is also a lawyer, made after she was elected to the court in 2008. She allegedly transferred properties to her stepchildren in an effort to hide assets and get a bank to forgive more than $600,000 in debts she owed on a mortgage.

This latest black mark comes after years in which Michigan’s Supreme Court has been criticized by national bar associations and others for being too influenced by money and partisan politics. Last year, two respected judges, one a Republican, one a Democrat, produced a highly praised study of the court, with recommendations for improvement.

When a justice resigns before the end of his or her term, the Michigan Judicial Task Force proposes creation of a citizens’ advisory board to screen candidates for the post. After public hearings, the board would recommend three to five names to the governor, who would make the appointment.

This recommendation got unanimous support from the bipartisan task force. It also was endorsed by the panel’s honorary chairman, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Governor Snyder should immediately convene such a citizens’ board, if for no other reason than to help restore integrity to the state’s highest court. If he instead merely names a Republican judge without consultation, as some of his predecessors have done, he will have made a mockery of his claim to put good government ahead of partisanship.

Republicans will retain a majority on the court however the vacancy is filled, and the reform process likely would propose nominees affiliated with both parties. Mr. Snyder has an opportunity to set a precedent for integrity. Failing to do so would be another high-court disgrace.