DETROIT (AP) – Republicans hoping to maintain their 4-3 majority on the Michigan Supreme Court appear on course, though the race is still too close to call.
There were three seats on the court being decided by voters on Election Day. The first went to incumbent Justice Brian Zahra, a Republican nominee.
But the race for the other two seats was still too close to call early Wednesday morning. There are seven candidates vying for those two spots, and the top two vote getters will win. Incumbent Justice Stephen Markman, also a Republican, is holding the lead, followed by law professor Bridget McCormack, a Democratic nominee.
If successful, McCormack, who is best known for leading the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school, would be the first non-judge elected to the Supreme Court since 1986. But right behind her is the other Republican candidate, Oakland County Judge Colleen O’Brien.
A McCormack victory also would stave off a potential Republican sweep that would give the GOP a commanding 5-2 majority. Justice Marilyn Kelly, a 74-year-old Democrat who had been on the court since 1997, couldn’t run again because of age restrictions.
Since Supreme Court elections are considered nonpartisan, political affiliations weren’t listed with the candidates even though all of them were nominated by political parties. Markman and Zahra were identified on the ballot as justices, giving voters a little more information about them.
Zahra was running against Southfield District Judge Shelia Johnson, a Democratic nominee, and a third-party candidate to fill the remaining two years of the term that once belonged to Maura Corrigan. Corrigan left the court to join the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed Zahra to the high court last year.
Markman, McCormack and O’Brien, along with Democratic nominee Wayne County Judge Connie Kelley and three others, were running for the two eight-year terms.
The court’s conservative bloc typically sticks together in civil disputes involving contracts, insurance companies, medical malpractice and auto coverage.
Business groups including farmers, bankers, doctors and insurers put their campaign cash on Markman, Zahra and O’Brien, while unions and trial lawyers donated to McCormack and the rest of the Democratic slate.
With no debates or forums among rival candidates, the Supreme Court races mostly emphasized name recognition and feel-good issues. No one talked about how they would rule in a certain case; instead, radio and television ads focused on how the candidates would stand up for families or be tough on crime, positions that don’t really distinguish one candidate from another.
A lack of voter interest may be a factor in the races still being undecided Wednesday morning, since Supreme Court candidates were near the end of a long ballot and participation drops as voters move from the top of the ballot to nonpartisan contests and statewide referenda near the bottom.
Still, some voters, such as James Redmann of Grand Traverse County’s Acme Township, did their homework on the race. The 70-year-old minister voted for the three GOP-backed candidates.
“They are good constitutionalists,” Redmann said. “They are not going to legislate from the bench, and that’s what I want.”
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