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Monday, October 08, 2012



Published September 8, 2011-Updated October 18, 2011

“Reliving Marbury v. Madison at the Michigan State Supreme Court Level”

By Nathan’ette Burdine-Follow on Twitter@nbnylemagazine

           The political implications, which were within the Marbury v. Madison case, surrounding the question concerning how far the outgoing executive’s political reach should be were revisited at the State of Michigan Supreme Court level in a case brought by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuett questioning former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s appointment of Judge Hugh Clark to the 54-A District Court.  Inherent within both of these cases is how far should the constitution allow the executive power to extend.  Pardons, the appointment of judges, or appointment of an individual to fill a vacant seat in the legislature are the clearest signs of a president or governor’s power that remains after he/she has left office.  There is a subtle common fear of this power based on the fact that the executive’s ideas continue to flourish and shape the political landscape of the country after he/she has left office.  This makes it somewhat difficult for the incoming administration to invoke political change.  So the incoming executive uses the court as a means to meet his/her end of limiting the reach of the previous executive’s power.

           In the Marbury v. Madison case, William Marbury argued that outgoing President John Quincy Adams’s appointment of him as a judge took precedent over President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State, James Madison, not delivering Marbury’s signed appointment papers to Congress.  Justice John Marshall, who was the Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams, ruled in favor of Secretary of State James Madison.  Justice Marshall argued that William Marbury could not take his post because his appointment was unconstitutional.  According to Justice Marshall, Congress and President Adams usurped the constitution when they created the extra judgeships in order to fill the bench with Federalist judges.

          It was no secret that during President Thomas Jefferson’s time he was no fan of the Federalist.  Jefferson was a Republican who believed in limited government, while Adams was a Federalist who believed in big government.  President Adams went so far as to limit the Republicans’ power by passing the Alien and Sedation Acts of 1798 which made it a crime to speak against the government.  After Thomas Jefferson succeeded John Quincy Adams as president, Jefferson and the Republicans were able to get their revenge by limiting former President John Quincy Adams’s executive reach beyond his term.  Jefferson successfully limited the reach of President Adams’s political power by using the court to prevent President Adams’s appointment of a Federalist judge, William Marbury. 

Like the Marbury v. Madison case, political implications seem to spearhead Attorney General Schuett’s argument questioning the legality of the previous executive’s decision.  The attorney general and Governor Rick Snyder are Republicans, while Judge Clark and the former Governor Jennifer Granholm are Democrats.  Based on the different party affiliations, one would believe that the attorney general was motivated by his assume comfort with someone who was a member of his party and shared his ideas on interpreting the law.  In order to further suppress the former governor’s democratic views, the attorney general used the courts to question if the state’s constitution makes the new administration duty bound to honor the previous executive’s decision concerning judicial appointments.  Attorney General Schuett argued that former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s appointment of Judge Clark to the 54-A District Court was unconstitutional because it ended the day the former governor left office on January 1, 2011.  Governor Granholm appointed Judge Clark to fill the court’s vacancy after Judge Amy Krause was appointed to fill a vacancy on the court of appeals.  Judge Krause resigned on December 13, 2010 and Judge Clark was appointed December 20, 2010.  His appointment took effect on December 22, 2010.

The attorney general believes the only way Judge Clark could remain on the bench is if Governor Rick Snyder extended the appointment.  In order to prove the validity of his argument, Attorney General Schuett cited the Attorney General v. Riley (1983) case.  Governor Milliken appointed Justice Dorothy Cornstock Riley to the bench after Justice Blair Moody died during the same year he was elected.  Governor James Blanchard’s administration argued that Justice Dorothy Cornstock Riley could not remain on the court bench beyond Governor Milliken’s term, which ended on January 1, 1983.  The Michigan Supreme Court stated that they understood why the attorney general would cite the case, however, the case did not apply to this situation.

The justices pointed to four points.  First, the constitution grants the governor the power to fill a judicial vacancy.  The appointee shall relinquish the office if he is not voted into that position after the results of the first general election held, after his appointment, are tallied.  The Michigan Constitution defines a general election as that occurring during an even year during the month of November.  Hence, if another person is voted into the position then Judge Clark will relinquish the office at 12 noon on January 1, 2013.  Therefore, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed the attorney general’s case and ruled in favor of Judge Hugh Clark and allowed him to assume office. 

The personal is political is a statement politicians know very well.  It points to how even though some may try to separate their personal views from their political views, they find that the two are inseparable.  Often, the personal reveals the political to lady liberty by removing lady liberty’s blindfold of justice from her eyes.  Just as Thomas Jefferson could not place aside his personal views about John Quincy Adams’s attempt to silence any one who did not agree with the Federalist agenda, Attorney General Schuett could not place aside his personal views about the Democratic Party and their representation on the bench.  Judge Clark’s appointment represented the old guard and an impasse to the Republican Party’s doctrine.  In order to remove the impasse, Attorney General Schuett did like Thomas Jefferson and took his case to lady justice.  It’s just that in the attorney general’s case, lady justice decided she would keep on her blindfold for the day.







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