By Justice-Emeritus Alton Thomas Davis
In the lead up to any given election day, you hear a lot about the candidates: Republicans and Democrats, Mayors and City Council Members, Representatives and Senators, Governors and Presidents—it’s enough to make one’s head spin. One elected office voters don’t get enough information about is the Michigan Supreme Court.
Michigan is one of 38 states that elect justices to their highest courts. The Michigan Supreme Court serves as the final word on questions of law in our state. It is vitally important for voters to recognize the importance of who they elect to the 8 year term of a Justice of the Supreme Court and what those people do once they are in office.
It is probably not news to those of you reading this that the vast majority of Michiganders know very little about their justices or the decisions they make. This disconnect weakens accountability in judicial races, which is the relatively infrequent and only opportunity voters have to elect or replace sitting judges based on decisions they have made while in office. That is why Michigan LCV’s Green Gavels Tool is so significant.
Green Gavels is a cooperative project between the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the University of Michigan Law School. Case research for Green Gavels was begun in 2011 and the formal tool was launched just a year later in 2012. The tool provides you with simple and easy to understand, stoplight colored gavels paired case-by-case with straightforward analysis of the issue in question and how it affects the environment.
Green Gavels is the only accountability tracker that scores decisions made by the Michigan Supreme Court affecting our land, air and water. It pulls back the curtain and allows citizens to clearly see how Michigan’s justices have decided environmental and conservation cases going back as far as 1982. Armed with this information voters can come to their own informed conclusions about whether or not any given Court as a group or any given justice is responsive to environmental issues. This ability to assess judicial decision-making empowers Michigan voters to truly hold their justices accountable for the rulings they make.
On January 1, 2015, its newest Justice, Richard Bernstein, joined the Michigan Supreme Court. With a strong legal and professional background, Justice Bernstein is poised to be a well–respected voice on the bench. Along with all of his fellow justices, Justice Bernstein’s decisions will be reviewed and scored using Michigan LCV’s Green Gavels methodology.
As the cases roll in and the rulings roll out, Green Gavels will keep you abreast of the decisions of the Michigan Supreme Court as those decisions impact our land, air and water. I urge you to consult the Green Gavels analysis on a regular basis and suggest to others that they do the same. I hope that it will continue to be an invaluable tool for all who are concerned about the preservation and wise use of our precious natural resources.
Justice Davis served on the Supreme Court of Michigan from 2010 to 2011.