ESCANABA - Aside from the fall's presidential election and other major races on the ballot, voters this November will also decide who should fill three seats on the Michigan Supreme Court. One of these candidates is Bridget Mary McCormack, of Ann Arbor. In an interview with the Daily Press Wednesday, McCormack discussed why she's running for the position and what some of her goals are should she be elected in November.
A native of New Jersey, McCormack, a Democrat, moved to Michigan 14 years ago to join the University of Michigan Law School faculty, where she also currently serves as dean for clinical affairs.
"I teach law students how important it is that the courts and the judiciary serve as our honest broker in government, how they're different from the other branches of government and what that means and why it's important," she explained. "Then in our clinical programs, we represent people who wouldn't otherwise have access to lawyers or courts in a bunch of different contexts."
This enables them to see where the court system works well and areas that may need improvement.
"I myself started a Domestic Violence Clinic and a Pediatric Health Advocacy Clinic, where we represent pediatric patients and their families," she said.
Some other clinics in the program include the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which represents those who have been wrongfully convicted, and a new Entrepreneurship Clinic, where students provide all legal services to on-campus businesses.
"In my view, they (law students) learn things by doing that work that they just can't learn in the traditional classroom," said McCormack, such as the values and ethical norms of the profession and how to treat clients or an opposing council.
McCormack calls the clinics a great education experience and noted it is satisfying to work on cases and problems the court system sometimes finds difficult.
"I've spent my career now 21 years fighting for people to make sure everybody gets a fair shake in our judicial system," she said. "Supreme Court has more of a role to play in that than any other institution in our state and so I want to take my experience and my interest to continue to serve that issue."
McCormack said she believes her experience makes her a great addition to the court, and noted that historically it is not uncommon for Supreme Court justices to come from a law school faculty, citing the latest appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen, who came from Harvard Law School faculty, and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cooley, who came from U of M Law School faculty.
"That path has not been uncommon historically and I think the reason for that is a lot of what we do in our teaching and in our scholarship is similar to what the Supreme Court does," she said. "We are picking apart appellate decision-making."
McCormack also feels her practical work representing people in courts, including those who might not otherwise get a "fair shake" in the system, gives her a unique perspective on how the court system works for everyday people and regular families, and would be a valuable addition to the court.
She said with seven seats on the Michigan Supreme Court, she believes there should be some diversity in background and experience of the justices if they have the right qualifications to serve.
McCormack's main goal as a justice, should she be elected, would be restoring public confidence in the Michigan Supreme Court.
"I think that public confidence has been undermined in our state Supreme Court because of the partisanship and the politics that have become a bigger force in our appellate courts and in our Supreme Courts in recent years," she said, noting she believes this is a critique people may have with their courts in other states as well.
"Michigan's not a total outlier as a place where politics and partisanship have become routine in the appellate courts, but that doesn't make it OK," McCormack added. "In fact, I think it would be great if Michigan would be a leader in reducing that because I believe that public confidence would be restored if folks didn't think that decisions were made for political reasons or along partisan lines."
McCormack has been endorsed by current Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, whose seat is one of the vacancies in the upcoming election since she is Constitutionally required to retire due to her age. The other two seats are races against two incumbent Supreme Court Justices - Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra.
"I really do feel like I have a great place from which to work on issues I care about and try to make a difference," said McCormack. "My hope is that on the Supreme Court I can do even more of that."
McCormack resides in Ann Arbor with her husband Steve, a lawyer and law professor at the U of M Law School. They have four children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.