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McCormack retirement could help Democrats keep edge on Michigan Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack
Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack will step down after Nov. 22 this year. In a statement Monday, she contends the time has come for her to move on and for newcomers to “lead, and to build on a foundation of progress.” (Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack’s Facebook page)
  • Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridge McCormack is stepping down before the year ends
  • She has been chief justice since 2019
  • The retirement lets Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appoint a successor and guard Democrats’ 4-3 edge on the court

LANSING — Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack will retire later this year, according to a Monday media release.

McCormack, 56, is a Democratic Party nominee who was first elected to the state’s high court in 2012. She will step down after Nov. 22 and before the year ends, leaving Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is seeking re-election Nov. 8, an opportunity to fill her vacancy.

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McCormack was the ninth woman to join the Supreme Court and became chief justice in 2019. She was the sixth woman to serve as chief justice. 

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“Making good on a campaign promise I made in 2012, I have given my every effort to do justice and to make the Michigan judiciary as fair and accessible as possible,” she said in a letter to her colleagues and staff. 

“After a decade, the time has come for me to move on, to let others lead, and to build on a foundation of progress.”

McCormack has six years left on her term, and Democratic nominated justices hold a 4-3 edge on the court. Her successor would serve until 2024, when voters will elect a justice to serve a full eight-year term, according to the Michigan constitution.

Two justices are up for re-election this year: Brian Zahra, a Republican nominee, and Richard Bernstein, a Democratic nominee. 

The Republican-controlled Legislature does not need to confirm the governor’s choice to succeed McCormack, whom Whitmer called a “phenomenal public servant.” 

“She upheld the rule of law, stood strong for our constitutional values, and protected the fundamental rights of every Michigander,” Whitmer said. “She worked tirelessly, both on and off the bench, to move our state courts forward and ensure that all Michiganders, no matter their background, means, or circumstance, had equal access to our justice system.”

McCormack is a former law professor and dean at the University of Michigan Law School. She is a graduate of the New York University Law School and started out her career working with the Legal Aid Society and the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York.

Her sister is actress Mary McCormack, who was in the TV show “The West Wing.”

“Bridget sets the standard for what a chief justice should be: independent, positive, fair, clear-thinking, and engaging. In a world that has become increasingly partisan and angry, she is a voice of reason, compassion, and thoughtfulness,” said state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth T. Clement, who was appointed to the court by former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.

McCormack most recently voted to place two constitutional amendment proposals on abortion rights and early voting on the November ballot, siding with the majority of the court. The rulings came after the Board of State Canvassers failed to certify the proposals for the general election. Opponents of the proposals alleged formative defects in the proposals, including word spacing issues in the abortion proposal.

In her concurring opinion in the abortion rights case, McCormack argued failing to certify the proposal would “disenfranchise millions of Michiganders” and accused opponents of playing “a game of gotcha” that had “gone very bad.”

“What a sad marker of the times,” she wrote.

During her tenure, McCormack last year established  the state’s Justice for All Commission, which works to expand access to the civil justice system especially for low- to moderate-income residents. 

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In 2019, Whitmer appointed McCormack as co-chair of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration — a panel created by the governor to reduce incarceration and develop alternatives to jail. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said Monday the loss of McCormack as a Supreme Court justice “cannot be overstated.”

“She has been a scholar, a consensus builder and an innovator. Her programming has allowed the essence of justice to reach those who never before felt included in our system of laws,” Nessel wrote in a Monday tweet.

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