Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

March 10, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Court pick process panned

Gov. Rick Snyder made two major decisions last week, one of which got a vast amount of attention and another which drew little notice — but should have gotten more.

The one that got all the headlines, of course, was his announcement March 1 that Detroit was in a state of financial emergency, and that he soon would appoint an emergency manager.

The decision that didn’t get much attention was his appointment of Macomb County Circuit Judge David Viviano to the Michigan Supreme Court. He replaces Diane Hathaway, who resigned in January and is awaiting sentencing for real estate fraud.

What was controversial about this — or should have been — was the process, not necessarily the new justice. There has been widespread concern about Michigan’s highest court, largely for the blatantly partisan nature of the way justices are chosen — and sometimes rule once on the bench. Last year, a distinguished bipartisan Michigan Judicial Selection Task Force issued a highly praised report on ways to improve the court.

The panel, whose honorary chair was the governor’s fellow Republican, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, unanimously agreed on a method for replacing justices who resign.

The governor, however, ignored their recommendations.

More on that shortly. But first — to anyone who has been following events, announcing an Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit this was about as surprising as snow in early March. The city hasn’t been able to balance its budget since 2004, and has covered shortfalls by borrowing. Detroit has long-term liabilities of $14 billion.

Nearly $2 billion of that will come due in the next five years, and there is no realistic plan to pay any of it back. Detroit has hit the wall.

Frankly, the governor had no choice — and nobody rational could say he was in a rush to take over the city. Had that been the case, he could have sent in an emergency manager last spring.

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