Amid jeers, Michigan Republicans select a supreme court justice who strayed

The members of the Michigan Republican ticket in 2018.

Republican-nominated Michigan Supreme Court Justices Elizabeth Clement and Kurtis Wilder (on right) appeared on stage at the end of the convention with the rest of the Republican ticket to applause. Neither gave victory speeches like the other winning candidates. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

Update: Michigan Supreme Court up for grabs after 2018 election
Update: Michigan’s Republican black-sheep justice is winning some unlikely allies

“She’s a liberal!” arose from a din of boos and jeers on the Lansing Center convention room floor Saturday as a speaker shouted into a microphone, attempting to finish his nomination of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement as the party’s nominee at its convention.

“Over the past 20 years few have been as strident, few have been as supportive of our party as Beth Clement,” Victor Fitz, the Cass County Prosecutor, said as some delegates shouted “no!” back at him.

But despite protests in pockets throughout the room, Clement ‒ who was nowhere to be seen on the floor before the vote ‒ was approved by voice vote to run alongside Justice Kurtis Wilder for reelection in November under the Republican flag.

Related: Will Michigan Republicans take down Justice Clement? If so, here’s how.

In the weeks leading up to the Michigan Republican Party Convention, some party insiders had attempted to find a challenger to replace the incumbent Clement, who angered activists by twice voting with Democrat-nominated justices to allow schools to ban carrying guns on school property and, in another decision, allowing a citizen proposal that would create an independent commission to control redistricting decisions to appear on the November ballot.

The main possible challenger to Clement, attorney Donna Nakagiri, declined an insurgent invitation to run. An organized effort to oppose Clement at Saturday’s convention failed to materialize and no one called for a suspension of the rules, which would have given delegates the opportunity to mount a challenge.

Clement could not be reached for comment Saturday and did not attend the press conference with the winning Republican statewide nominees.

A flyer opposing the Voters Not Politicians initiative

Flyers opposing the Voters Not Politicians initiative and Justice Elizabeth Clement were scattered throughout the Michigan Republican Party Convention Saturday. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

While delegates who spoke with Bridge ahead of the vote didn’t sense an insurrection was imminent, ire over the Voters Not Politicians redistricting proposal remained visceral Saturday.

Mark Gurley, Republican Party Grassroots Vice Chair, stood outside the convention center handing out flyers early Saturday paid for by the Michigan Oak Initiative that said “Vote NO on Prop 2” and “TWO is TOXIC” in bold letters, referencing the Voters Not Politicians initiative.

In smaller letters near the bottom, the flyer also suggested delegates “abstain voting for Justice Clement at convention and only vote for Justice Wilder.”

Gurley said a formal challenge to Clement was “not going to happen, so this is just a shot across the bow to tell people not to vote for it,” he said of the flyer.

Joel Fulton, a Republican delegate from Battle Creek, said he disapproves of Clement because she “has not strictly applied the law.”

“Clement can go pound sand,” he said.

Other attendees, though, said they don’t mind Clement’s redistricting decision. Multiple people said it should be up to the people to decide on the initiative, not the court.

“I’m a traditionalist,” said Greg Childs, a delegate from Macomb County, in explaining his lack of outrage over the redistricting ruling.

Mark Gurley

Mark Gurley is the Michigan Republican Party Grassroots Vice Chair. He spearheaded an effort to tell delegates to vote against the Voters Not Politicians initiative in November and urged them to abstain voting for Justice Elizabeth Clement, who was one of the justices that determined the proposal could be on the ballot. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

In a 4-3 decision in July, Clement cast the deciding vote that the Voters Not Politicians ballot proposal was appropriate to go before voters. Challengers to the initiative had argued the measure was too broad and could only be enacted by constitutional convention.

Currently, Michigan legislators redraw district lines every 10 years following the U.S. Census, with the most recent boundaries drawn by Republican consultants in 2011. Whichever party is in power during that process ‒ which in 2011 was Republicans — can greatly influence how those lines are drawn, which has led to accusations of partisan gerrymandering.

If the proposal passes in November, the drawing of legislative lines for House, Senate and Congressional seats in Michigan will be placed in the hands of a 13-person board of citizens: four Democrats, four Republicans and five people who don’t identify with either majority party.  

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has heavily funded opposition to the ballot initiative, and it is opposed by many Republicans, including Bill Schuette, the party’s nominee for governor.

Near the end of Saturday’s convention, an animated video paid for by newly-formed group Protect My Vote cast the proposal as an “Obama gerrymander” that would skew maps in favor of Democrats.

“You won’t be able to hold your representative, governor or supreme court accountable,” the video said.

Katie Fahey, director of Voters Not Politicians, was at the convention talking with attendees about the proposal.

“I’m just thankful that (Clement) did review things knowing that there was political party pressure,” Fahey said. “And I trust that the majority of people in the party also want the law to be upheld over party even if they might be passionate about their personal party.”

Neither Clement nor Wilder spoke to the crowds or to the media in the immediate aftermath of their nomination — a marked absence in a day full of fanfare and speeches from most of the winning candidates.

“Historically, the entire convention would have been enthusiastic about hearing from these nominees,” said Lansing political commentator Bill Ballenger. “Yet it was completely taken away from them because of the embarrassment and the trouble it would have caused, both to the candidates and to the party itself.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Kevin Grand
Sat, 08/25/2018 - 7:04pm

A "voice vote"?!?


Nothing could be said more clearly to the grassroots and where they can all go, than Bolger invoking parliamentary tricks in a vain attempt to "show unity" with damaged goods.

The fact Clement lacked the integrity to show her face is also telling.

Kate Convissor
Sun, 08/26/2018 - 10:46am

I'm grateful that she had the integrity to vote according to her interpretation of law rather than fold to party pressure on both those issues. I may lean liberal, but she has my vote. I want justices who aren't in the pocket of the highest bidder.

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 11:40am

Agree. But the rule of law, integrity and justice are no longer Republican 'values'. Loyalty to the party trumps all of that.

John Q. Public
Sun, 08/26/2018 - 3:16pm

Re: parliamentary tricks--live by the sword, die by the sword, Kevin. It's the Republican way.

While I don't know, I'd certainly wager that the decision for Clement to not appear on the floor wasn't hers.

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 8:58am

Being neither Democrat nor Republican and listening to the ‘News’, I am surprised by the Republicans. With their candidates they are showing a much more inclusive Party. Where the Democrats seem to be only willing to accept/nominate those aggressively active at the ‘liberal’ extreme of the political spectrum, the Republicans have nominate someone who many are calling a ‘liberal’ for a Supreme Court seat [suggesting she has added traits, such as very knowledgeable in the law, open minded and listening to each case as presented before judging each case].
I am not knowledgeable about what criteria to use when choosing a Supreme Court Justice, but in this case simply because the Republicans wrangle over her political leanings and still selected her will probably carry my vote.
Does anyone offer better criteria for deciding this vote or should I rely on the Parties' campaign ads?

Dr. Richard Zeile
Wed, 08/29/2018 - 5:06pm

The Rule of Law sometimes does not fall to our advantage. I understand the question decided dealt not with the merits of the proposal, but with form/procedure, requiring voters to determine the issue. We dare not sacrifice immediate advantage at the cost of violating the law's intent. Reasonable people might disagree as to what this requires, but I appreciate Justice Clement's efforts to put principle over party, as well as our party's backing her despite some disagreement/disappointment.

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 1:48pm

I wonder how you tell what the intent was/is when it is not expressed specifically in the law/proposal?