Michigan Supreme Court chief justice leaving bench this year

DETROIT (AP) — The chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court said Monday she will step down by the end of 2022, an announcement that followed a major decision affecting abortion rights and more than two years of steering the state’s judiciary through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bridget McCormack, a Democratic Party nominee, has been on the court since 2013 and still had six years left in her second term.

“After a decade, the time has come for me to move on, to let others lead, and to build on a foundation of progress,” McCormack, 56, said in a written statement.

She said she would resign no earlier than Nov. 22 and no later than Dec. 31. The timing will depend on the appointment of her successor. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she will pick a new justice, apparently no matter the results of the Nov. 8 election.

Whitmer, a Democrat seeking reelection, called McCormack a “phenomenal public servant.”

Election victories by McCormack and Justice Elizabeth Welch in 2020 put Democrats in the court’s majority for the first time since 2010. Those wins came shortly after a Republican majority struck down Whitmer’s sweeping authority to manage Michigan’s response to the pandemic.

McCormack last week was in the 5-2 majority that put abortion rights on the November ballot. Republican members of a state elections board had rejected the proposed constitutional amendment over the spacing of words on the petition, which had attracted more than 750,000 signatures.

“What a sad marker of the times,” said McCormack, who called it a “game of gotcha gone very bad.”

Before her election in 2012, she was co-director of the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school, working with students to exonerate wrongly convicted people.

Indeed, criminal law has been a specialty. In June, she wrote the court’s unanimous opinion that indictments used to charge former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and others in the Flint water investigation were invalid.

McCormack has been chief justice since 2019, a role that is decided by the court’s seven members. In that job, she has left her mark across the state, especially during the pandemic, when courtrooms were closed and judges turned to video conferencing to handle cases.

The public suddenly could turn to the internet to watch cases in local courts. Video access is still available in many courts.

Before the pandemic, the state Supreme Court ordered all Michigan courts to allow visitors to carry laptops, tablets and phones. Some counties complained they would lose revenue if people could copy public documents with their devices. But McCormack said the change ensures the “doors to our courts are open to all,” especially poor people who had to stash a phone in bushes before entering some courts.

Justice Elizabeth Clement, a Republican, said McCormack has been independent and fair.

“In a world that has become increasing partisan and angry, she is a voice of reason, compassion and thoughtfulness,” Clement said.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

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