Partisan shift on Michigan Supreme Court

The November 2020 election changed the partisan balance on the Michigan Supreme Court from Republican to Democrat control. The partisan balance on the court flipped from 4-3 with Republicans controlling the court to 4-3, with Democrats controlling the court.

The two seats up for election on the court were held by Bridget Mary McCormack (D) and Stephen Markman (R), a Republican-appointed justice who had reached his mandatory retirement age and was not eligible to run for re-election. Justice McCormack held her place as Chief Justice and Elizabeth Welch (D) won Justice Markman’s seat. At the time of the election, four of the seven justices on the court were appointed by Republican governors to fill vacancies. Three of the justices on the court advanced from Democratic conventions before winning general elections.

Although the general election is nonpartisan, political parties in Michigan may nominate candidates for state supreme court elections. In 2020, the Democratic Party nominated incumbent Bridget Mary McCormack and Elizabeth Welch, while the Republican Party nominated Brock Swartzle and Mary Kelly.

In 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 64% of the cases they heard. Justices dissented in 10 of the 28 cases heard by the court and ruled unanimously in the other 18.

Michigan Supreme Court justices serve eight-year terms and must be re-elected if they wish to continue serving. Incumbent judges seeking re-election may file an affidavit of candidacy requesting to be placed on the ballot, while non-incumbent candidates must either file a nominating petition or obtain a partisan nomination at a party convention. Incumbency is noted on the ballot, though party affiliation is not.

In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a temporary replacement to serve until the next general election. At the governor’s request, the state bar’s standing committee on judicial qualifications interviews, evaluates, and rates all candidates, submitting a confidential report to the governor.

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