Michigan Supreme Court

Current partisan makeup % Justices of Color
4D-3R 14
Justice Party Next Election Mandatory Retirement
Elizabeth Clement R 2026 2047
Brian Zahra R N/A 2030
David Viviano R 2024 2048
Richard Bernstein D 2030 2048
Megan Cavanagh D 2026 2042
Elizabeth Welch D 2028 2044
Kyra Harris Bolden D 2024 2058

The Michigan Supreme Court has been essential in securing the rights for all Michiganders, consistently acting as a check on corporate power and securing all individuals’ rights to clean water, open elections, fair representation, and protections for tenants, workers, and the LGBTQ+ community.

Why Michigan Matters

The court has been a critical check on partisan gerrymandering and ensured every citizen’s right to an equal voice in their elections and government. One key decision allowed a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission to stay on the November 2018 ballot. By permitting the proposal to stay on the ballot, the court ensured voters were able to determine how their district maps were drawn. This decision safeguarded all Michiganders’ voting rights and strengthened public trust and the integrity of their political representation. In another case, the court permitted the City of Detroit’s proposed charter, including issues ranging from clean water to affordable housing and transit, to appear on the ballot. By upholding Detroiters’ right to have a voice in their city’s charter, the court empowered Detroit voters to have a bigger and more direct impact on how their government works. And amidst the lawsuits challenging the 2020 presidential election results, the court bolstered public faith in elections and safeguarded free and fair elections in Michigan by twice denying partisan requests to delay the certification of the results.

One of the most impactful decisions by the court protected the residents of Flint, Michigan, ensured their access to clean and safe drinking water, and upheld their rights to hold the government accountable for its role in allowing corporations to contaminate the Flint River and then downplaying the severity of the lead contamination. Recognized as one of the worst public health crises in recent history, Flint residents were poisoned with lead-tainted drinking water for over five years, yet government officials downplayed and concealed the crisis, refusing to address the health and safety risks it posed. When Flint residents sought to exercise their rights in court to hold their government accountable for its actions, the court was essential in upholding their rights by permitting the lawsuit to move forward against the state and state officials, ultimately leading to a $600 million settlement. Without this decision, Flint residents would have been denied any legal avenue to seek justice for their communities sickened and endangered, allowing the state to evade accountability for ignoring this environmental disaster and violating communities’ rights to safe, clean drinking water.

In all of these cases, the court empowered everyday citizens to seek justice, and protected the voice and vote of all Michiganders. It’s paramount to have a court that will not bend the law to favor the wealthy and powerful, but rather is led by justices who understand the impact of their decisions on every Michiganders. From protecting clean water to ensuring free and fair elections, the state’s highest court affects nearly every aspect of Michiganders’ daily lives and constitutional rights.

Selection Method

Michigan elects its supreme court justices in nonpartisan elections. Rather than running in primary elections, candidates for supreme court are nominated by delegates from every party’s nominating convention. Names of the nominated candidates appear on the general election ballot without an official partisan designation.

If an unexpected vacancy occurs, then the governor will appoint a justice to the court. The appointed justice will have to stand at the next general election. In the general election, there may be challengers to the appointed justice. It is then up to voters to decide who they want to sit on the bench.

Current Justices on the Court

Elizabeth Clement, Chief Justice

Justice Elizabeth T. Clement was appointed to the court by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in November 2017 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Joan Larsen. In November 2018, she was elected to a full eight-year term that expires on January 1, 2027.

Legal Career

  • Before her appointment to the Court, Clement served as Snyder’s chief legal counsel. She also served in the Michigan Senate Majority Policy Office and provided analysis and research to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Health Policy Committee, and Senate Local and State Affairs Committee, and was a legislative aide to Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Rogers. She also worked in private practice in family law, adoption, probate, estate planning, and criminal law.

Brian Zahra, Justice

Justice Brian K. Zahra was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2011. He was elected to fill the remainder of the term in November 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2014 and to a second full term in November 2022. His current term ends in 2030, the same year he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Legal Career

  • Upon graduation from law school, Zahra clerked for Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. After, Zahra joined the law firm Dickinson, Wright, Moon, Van Dusen & Freeman. He eventually became a partner, specializing in commercial and product liability litigation. Zahra then served as a judge on the Wayne County Circuit Court. He later served as a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals until his appointment to the Supreme Court.

David Viviano, Justice

Justice David F. Viviano was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to the court in February 2013 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Diane Hathaway. In November 2014, he was elected to serve the remaining two years of Hathaway’s term and was re-elected in November 2016 to a full eight-year term. His current term expires on January 1, 2025. He announced in March 2024 that he would not seek another term on the court.

Legal Career

  • Viviano previously served on the Macomb County Circuit and Probate Courts as a trial judge. Before becoming a judge, he served as city attorney for the city of Center Line and worked in private practice in commercial and criminal litigation, zoning, and real estate law

Richard Bernstein, Justice

Justice Richard Bernstein was elected to serve an eight-year term on the court in November 2014 and assumed office on January 1, 2015. In November 2022 he was re-elected to a second full term, which expires on January 1, 2031.

Legal Career

  • Bernstein joined his family’s law practice, the Sam Bernstein Law Firm upon graduating from law school and remained there until his election to the Supreme Court. While at the firm he had a prolific pro bono practice protecting the rights of people with disabilities and helped establish the firm’s Public Service Division. He identifies as a person with a disability and was the first blind justice elected to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Megan Cavanagh, Justice  

Justice Megan K. Cavanagh was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2018. She was sworn in on January 1, 2019 to a term that expires on January 1, 2027.

Legal Career

  • Cavanaugh worked as an appellate attorney handling civil defense cases and served as Chair of the Appellate Practice Section and as council person for the Negligence Section of the State Bar of Michigan before joining the court. She was also co-chair of the Michigan Bench Bar Appellate Conference Foundation and was a member of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.

Elizabeth Welch, Justice  

Justice Elizabeth M. Welch was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2020 and assumed office in January 2021. Her current term expires on January 1, 2029.

Legal Career

  • Prior to joining the court, Welch practiced labor and employment law in private practice. She also worked as counsel to a criminal defense law practice, handled pro bono abuse and neglect matters, and counseled nonprofit organizations on board governance. She is also a trained mediator and has volunteered in dispute resolution matters.

Kyra Harris Bolden, Justice

Justice Kyra Harris Bolden was appointed to the court in 2022 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to fill a vacancy left by the departure of Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. She was sworn in on January 1, 2023 and became the first Black woman to join the state’s highest court. She must run for re-election in 2024 to fill the remainder of the term, which expires in 2028.

Legal career

  • Prior to joining the court, Bolden served as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the court in 2022 against incumbent Justice Brian Zahra. Elected to the Michigan House in 2018 and sworn into office in 2019, she worked to enact criminal justice reforms and legislation to protect survivors of sexual violence as a member of the Judiciary Committee. Before joining the legislature, she practiced criminal defense and civil litigation and clerked for the Honorable John A. Murphy of the Wayne County Third Circuit Court.
Noteworthy Cases

Access to Justice

  • Sanford v. People of Michigan (2020)
    • The court held that the text of Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act does not authorize compensation for the time appellants spent in detention before being wrongfully convicted of a crime, only for the time spent incarcerated after the wrongful conviction.

Criminal Justice

  • People of Michigan v. James Robert Crumbley (2023)
    • In a historic decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered a married couple to stand trial on four counts each of involuntary manslaughter in connection with four murders their son committed during a school shooting. The parents, who may serve up to 15 years in prison each if convicted, are the first in the nation to face charges that their negligence contributed to a school shooting committed by their child.
  • People of Michigan v. Stovall (2022)
    • The court found that the Michigan Constitution provides slightly broader protections than the U.S. Constitution and held that a life sentence with the possibility of parole for a defendant who committed second-degree murder while a juvenile constitutes cruel or unusual punishment.
  • People of Michigan v. Taylor (2022)
    • The court found that language found in both the federal and state constitutions that bans cruel or unusual punishment creates a presumption that life in prison without the possibility of parole is a disproportionate sentence for those who commit relevant crimes as a juvenile, and imposed a burden on prosecutors to overcome this presumption with clear and convincing evidence.
  • People of Michigan v. Parks (2022)
    • The court extended its holding on the unconstitutionality of life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles to eighteen-year-olds just past the cusp of being considered “juvenile.”
  • People of Michigan v. Boykin (2022)
    • The court ruled that judges must consider youth as a mitigating factor in sentencing, even when life in prison without parole is not being sought, holding that to avoid the state constitution’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment and fulfill the mandated need for proportionality, age must be considered as a mitigating factor when considering a wide range of potential sentences.

Democracy and Voting Rights

  • League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Secretary of State (2022)
    • The court struck down a 2018 law that changed the procedures for circulating petitions for citizen-initiated legislative and constitutional-amendments, holding that the legislature exceeded its authority in enacting the law and that the law unduly burdened the constitutional rights of voters and petition circulators.
  • League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (2022)
    • The court upheld a new map for the Michigan House of Representatives adopted by the state’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, ruling that a coalition of voting and civil rights advocates that had challenged the map failed to prove their allegation that it favored Republicans in violation of the Michigan Constitution.
  • Promote the Vote 2022 v. Board of State Canvassers (2022)
    • The court overturned the Michigan Board of State Canvassers’ decision to exclude a constitutional amendment campaign to expand voting rights from the 2022 general election ballot and ordered the board to certify the question for placement on ballots, reasoning that the proposed amendments would not violate any constitutional provisions identified by opponents of the campaign.
  • Reproductive Freedom for All v. Board of State Canvassers (2022)
    • The court ordered the Board of State Canvassers to place a constitutional amendment question that would enshrine the right to reproductive freedom in the state’s constitution on the 2022 general election ballot, overturning the board’s decision that the campaign’s petitions were invalid because the spacing between certain words on the petitions were insufficiently spaced and holding that the board had a clear legal duty to certify the petitions because they fulfilled all statutory form requirements.
  • Sheffield v. Detroit City Clerk (2021)
    • The court ruled 4-3 that proposed amendments to the City of Detroit’s charter, which addressed issues such as water access, affordable transit, affordable housing, and responsible contracting, could appear on the primary election ballot, upholding the constitutional rights of Detroit voters to decide city charter issues.
  • Johnson v. Secretary of State (2020)
    • The court denied a petition for declaratory relief in a lawsuit filed by a conservative legal group that alleged that election officials engaged in fraudulent and improper conduct in administering Michigan’s 2020 presidential election and asked the court to segregate ballots, order an audit of election results, and delay certification of the election results.

Education

  • Taxpayers for Michigan Constitutional Government v. State of Michigan (2021)
    • The court held that the state was improperly counting payments to charter schools as part of spending for local governments in violation of the state constitution, finding that charter schools can not be appropriately counted as local government spending because they are not school districts or political subdivisions of the state that are beholden to a local electorate and are viewed as an alternative to traditional public schools.
  • Council of Organizations and Others for Education About Parochiaid v. State (2020)
    • The court ruled that a law permitting reimbursement of costs incurred by nonpublic schools to comply with state health, safety, and welfare mandates did not violate the state constitution’s clause prohibiting public money from being paid to aid or maintain nonpublic schools, holding the constitution allows for supportive funding for fundamental services unrelated to the educational services of nonpublic schools.

Environment

  • Mays v. Governor of Michigan (2020)
    • The court ruled that residents of Flint, Michigan could move forward with a lawsuit that accused the State of Michigan and various state officials of downplaying and concealing actions that lead to the Flint Water Crisis, in which the city’s state-appointed emergency manager enacted a cost-saving measure to replace the city’s water supply with water from the chemical-laden Flint River that leached lead from the city’s pipes into its water supply and poisoned thousands of residents. The residents later reached a $600 million settlement with the state.
  • Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance v. Saugatuck Township (2022)
    • The court held that the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act does not require parties challenging zoning decisions to own real property or demonstrate that zoning decisions would devalue their property, finding that a group of individuals had standing to challenge their township zoning board’s approval of a planned condominium development that included a private marina by alleging the development would cause them to suffer various economic, environmental and ecological harms.

Equal Employment Opportunity

  • Christie v. Wayne State University (2023)
    • The court held that the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act require that all claims against the state must be filed within one year after the claim has accrued, ruling that a woman who brought age and disability discrimination claims against her state university employer 17 months after her termination could not proceed with her suit.

Executive Power & Civil Liberties

  • Progress Michigan v. Attorney General (2020)
    • The court ruled that personal emails for official government business are not exempt from Michigan Freedom of Information Act requests and ordered the state’s attorney general to fully comply with a records request after his office attempted to exclude certain communications between himself and members of his staff because they were sent between personal email addresses.

Public Health

  • In re Certified Questions From United States Dist. Ct., W. Dist. of Michigan (2020)
    • The court held that state’s Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which required the legislature to continually emergency declarations issued by the governor. The ruling came after medical services providers sued Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in federal court in a challenge to a series of executive orders she issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Housing and Tenant Rights

  • Admin. Order No. 2020-17 – Continuation of Alternative Procedures for Landlord/Tenant Cases (2023)
    • The court issued an administrative order making some rules implemented during the pandemic-era eviction moratorium permanent. The court’s chief justice joined its liberal majority in making the changes permanent after considering research presented to the court finding that the changes have resulted in fewer defaults and evictions and more fairness and participation in the process.

LGBTQ+ Americans

  • Rouch World, LLC v. Dep’t of Civil Rights (2022)
    • The court ruled that the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation or public service on the basis of sex, includes sexual orientation after a same-sex couple alleged that a company wrongfully declined to host their wedding ceremony because of their sexual orientation in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination law.
  • People v. Rogers (2020)
    • After a transgender woman was assaulted with a firearm, prosecutors filed charges against the assailant under the Ethnic Intimidation Act, Michigan’s hate crime law.  On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that transgender people were not protected under this statute. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which ultimately led the Court of Appeals to reverse its decision and hold that crimes against transgender people are covered under Michigan’s hate crime law under the category of gender.
  • Pueblo v. Haas (2023)
    • The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 opinion to extend the state’s equitable parent doctrine to non-biological parents in former same-sex relationships who had been prevented from marrying their child’s legal parent by Michigan’s unconstitutional past prohibition on same-sex marriage and were blocked from seeking custody consideration because they were unmarried.

Persons With Disabilities

  • Andary v. USAA Casualty Insurance Co. (2023)
    • In a 5-2 opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a key provision of a 2019 law overhauling the state’s auto insurance system does not apply to the approximately 18,000 individuals who were injured prior to the law’s passage, finding that those individuals have both contractual and statutory protections that shield them from the law’s key cost-saving fee cuts.

Reproductive Rights

  • In re Exec. Message of Governor Requesting Authorization of a Certified Question (2023)
    • Plaintiff Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed a complaint in trial court alleging that a state statute that criminalized abortion violated the state constitution, then asked the Michigan Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over the case and decide whether the Michigan Constitution protects the right to abortion. In light of an amendment to the Michigan Constitution protecting the right to reproductive autonomy that voters approved in November 2022, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Workers

  • Lichon v. Morse (2021)
    • The Court ruled that an employer could not enforce an arbitration agreement against former employees who alleged sexual harassment and assault. This was an important victory for workers because forced arbitration agreements oftentimes keep sexual harassment cases out of court and out of the public awareness, silence victims, and allow sexual harassers to evade accountability.
How to Weigh In On Your Supreme Court

Michigan’s general election will be held on November 5, 2024.

  • Check your registration status here.
  • Not registered? You can register to vote online here.
  • If you’re unable to go to the polls or want to vote by mail, you can find more information on absentee voting here.
  • You can also vote early in-person with an absentee ballot at your local election clerk’s office within the 40 days before an upcoming election. Check your polling place or find your clerk’s office here.

Make your plan to vote. In Michigan, you can vote by mail ballot, vote in person early at your local election clerk’s office, or in-person at your polling place.

  • Early voting begins Sunday, October 6, 2024.
  • The last day to register, in any other way than in-person at your local clerk’s office, is Monday, October 21, 2024.
  • The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is Friday, November 1, 2024.
  • Michigan has same-day voter registration, so you can register to vote at your city or township clerk’s office until 8:00 pm on Election Day, Tuesday, November 5, 2024. If you want to vote in-person on Election Day, make sure you know your polling place.

Make sure to vote your entire ballot, including the judicial races in the nonpartisan section of the ballot!