A Primer on the Seating Members of the Michigan Supreme Court

Some say the Universe arcs towards Justice. I think more often it requires the occasional push.” These words were written by author C.A.A. Savastano, and he’s right. Judicial systems exist because justice doesn’t materialize out of nowhere. It must be brought out and upheld by people, people like the judges who make up a Supreme Court and the citizens who fall under their jurisdiction.

People should be familiar with current Supreme Court justices, especially in their home state. If you live in the great state of Michigan, you must be aware of the judges currently seating in the Michigan supreme court. 

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Here are some brief backgrounders on Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and the other Michigan Supreme Court justices. 

Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack

Before she became the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Bridget Mary McCormack carries with her a distinguished legal career. It all began when she was a sophomore at Trinity College, McCormack decided to take the LSAT completely on a whim.  This decision would mark the beginning of her journey to become chief justice.

After she graduated, McCormack worked for fives years in New York, working under the Office of the Appellate Defender and with the Legal Aid Society. Shortly after, she had the honor of becoming a faculty fellow at Yale Law School. She used her considerable legal knowledge and resources to champion many causes and in 2008 she helped fund the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

McCormack was by then the associate dean in Law School of the University of Michigan. Under her direction and leadership, the Michigan Innocence Clinic helps people in the state who have been wrongfully convicted by providing them law students to represent them. The initiative has exonerated over 20 people.

Bridget Mary McCormack became one of the Michigan Supreme Court justices in 2013 before becoming the institution’s Chief Justice in 2019. Her main initiatives as chief justice is improving the access of Michiganders to justice for all. 

Justice Richard Bernstein

People with disabilities have a strong advocate in Justice Richard Bernstein. As the first blind justice in the Michigan Supreme Court, he is passionate about pursuing justice and equal access for other people with disabilities in the state. 

Born without sight, Bernstein graduated from the University of Michigan before getting his law degree from the School of Law of Northwestern University. Even before becoming a justice, Bernstein was already advocating the safety and equality of disabled individuals.

When he was still in private practice, Bernstein worked with the Paralyzed Veterans of America in collusion with the Department of Justice. His case helped secure safe access into the University of Michigan’s stadium for disabled individuals after it came to light that current access were inadequate. The case was instrumental in developing guidelines for commercial establishments across America. This is similar to another landmark case he represented, when he successfully guaranteed accessibility for the disabled after winning a case against Delta Airlines. He began his term on the Michigan Supreme Court in 2015. 

Justice Megan K. Cavanagh

Megan Cavanagh did not initially begin with a career in law. She graduated from the College of Engineering in the University of Michigan before earning her law degree at Way State University Law School. Afterwards, she set about establishing herself as one of the state’s most notable legal professionals. 

Before becoming one of the current Supreme Court justices of Michigan, she was lauded as one of the state’s Super Lawyers. In 2006, her hard work was recognized by “Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly,” going on to earn the Lawyer of the Year award. She followed up this award by winning a Woman in Law award in 2017. She also joined the State Bar of Michigan, serving as Chair of Appellate Practice Section. She was also chosen to be a part of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission

By the time she joined the highest legal body in Michigan, Megan K. Cavanagh already had 15 years of legal experience.

Justice Elizabeth T. Clement

Justice Clement studied political science in Michigan State University before earning her Juris Doctor in 2002 from the College of Law. After graduating, she ran her own private firm until 2006, focusing on family and criminal law, as well as estate planning.  She had served as a legislative aid in the state senate prior to opening her firm, establishing her career in the judicial and political arena. 

From 2006 to 2010, she served as a policy advisor as well as lawyer to Michigan senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. In 2011, newly elected Michigan governor Rick Snyder selected her as one of his deputy legal counsels. She became his chief legal counsel in 2016 following the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Clement became one of the Michigan Supreme Court justices in 2018, winning 29.88 percent of the votes.  

Justice David F. Viviano

Justice Viviano has always been passionate in improving the justice system of Michigan. After graduating and earning his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School Viviano worked under two law firms, both of them very well respected across America. He went on to open his own law firm in Mtg Clemens before serving as the City Attorney for Center Line, Michigan. He was also previously the chief judge for the Circuit and Probate Courts of Macomb County, 

He collaborated with other judges in 2008 to conduct tests on proposed reforms to the state’s jury system. He and his fellow judges received national recognition. Justice Viviano also advocates for electronic filing, data sharing and e-filing systems to improve how the state’s local courts operate. 

Justice Viviano was appointed to the state supreme court in 2013 by then Governor Snyder. However, he kept his seat in by winning elections in both 2014 and 2016. 

Justice Elizabeth M. Welch

Elizabeth Welch studied in Pennsylvania State University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. She went on to earn a Juris Doctor in Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. Welch has been a part of the legal profession in Michigan and Ohio for years, starting her career in these states in 1995. Welch worked for major law firms in Kentucky and Michigan before she opened her own firm. She began her first practice in 2005 but was already deeply involved in various legislative efforts and causes before then. 

Her primary advocacy was counselling non-profit organization and businesses. One of her passions was representing the interest of municipal clients in cases related to the opioid epidemic threatening the country. She ran for a seat in the Michigan Supreme Court in 2020 after the term expiration of Justice Stephen Markman. 

Justice Brian K. Zahra

Justice Zahra went to Wayne State University as a working student before graduating from the Mercy School of Law in the University of Detroit in 1987. Even at school, Zahra was already working on his legal profession, serving as a member of the school’s Law Review. He also worked as Articles Editor for the Corporation and Finance Business Law Journal of the State Bar of Michigan. 

When he graduated, the future Justice Zahra worked as a clerk for Judge Zatkoff. After his tenure as a clerk, Zahra would work for a major law firm and then go on to become a judge for Wayne County Circuit Court. He then moved on to work for the Michigan Court of Appeals, finally becoming a part of the Michigan Supreme Court in 2011. While working as a member of the supreme court, he also serves as a professor in the University of Detroit. 

Knowing who is a member of your state’s Supreme Court is vital when you want to be an active citizen. Their histories, track record and accomplishment can help you vote better and make more informed decisions in the future. 

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