Thursday, April 26, 1990
The Capitol, Lansing, Michigan
Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley*
Lieutenant Governor Griffiths, Speaker of the House of Representatives Dodak, Senate Majority Leader Engler, our special guest, United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Damon J. Keith, distinguished members of the House and Senate, Michigan Court of Appeals Chief Judge Danhof, and all of my colleagues of Michigan’s “One Court of Justice.”
My colleagues and I are delighted to be here this morning in your handsome House chambers, now restored to their original splendor. We congratulate you for the steadfastness with which you have pursued the restoration of our Capitol Building. I am certain that I speak for the people of Michigan as well as my colleagues when I tell you that for generations to come Michigan’s citizens will be grateful to you for what you have done to preserve the majesty of this historical site. And we hope that someday soon, with your help, we shall be able to invite you to the dedication ceremonies of our new chambers in Michigan’s first Hall of Justice. We believe that you have shown by your commitment to the preservation of this symbol of Michigan’s glorious past that with perseverance much can be achieved and that with perseverance, fired by passion, anything can be achieved.
Two hundred years ago, it was perseverance and passion that fired the souls of our founding forebears and it is their dream and their passion that we recognize in our nation’s five-year celebration to mark the Constitutional Bicentennial. Our national commemoration began, as you know, in 1987, focusing on the drafting of the Constitution; in 1988, we celebrated the ratification of it by the states; in 1989, the formation of the national government; and this year our national focus is on the judiciary.
For this reason, we have invited as our special guest this morning, the Chairman of the Bicentennial Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the very Honorable Damon J. Keith. Please join with me to recognize Judge Keith.
We are grateful to our founding generation for the legacy they passed on to us, and we are grateful to you, Judge Keith, and to Chief Justice Retired, Warren E. Burger, National Chairman, Bicentennial Commission, for your tireless efforts over the past several years to alert all Americans to their responsibility to keep our national dream alive.
While we celebrate the survival of a miracle born two hundred years ago, people throughout the world fight for their vision of what can be. Their struggle for a form of government and a rule of law which recognizes individual freedoms and liberties is a poignant reminder of that which we cherish—a living Constitution and Bill of
But as former Chief Justice Burger has so aptly stated:
The Constitution does not solve our problems.
It allows people freedom and opportunity to solve their own problems;
It provides for representatives of the people to
help solve problems;
It provides an executive to enforce the laws and
administer the government;
It provides a judicial branch to say what the
From there on it is up to the people.
“From there on it is up to the people.” For this very reason, I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, as the representative of Michigan’s third branch, the balance wheel of our state government. I come to tell you that the Judicial branch is prepared to share with you, as an equal partner, the burdens and responsibilities of governance. Thus, I welcome this opportunity to promote a better understanding between the Legislature and the Judicial branch and thereby further the effective administration of justice for the people of Michigan.
We all realize that no one can know what the future will bring. But we also realize that it is the commitments which we have the courage to make today that will shape all our tomorrows. Today we know that our courts are overwhelmed with rising case loads. Our State of the Judiciary Report provides ample statistical documentation of the staggering numbers.
The increase in civil litigation is spawned in large part by continuing economic expansion. While, as we know all too well, our criminal dockets are flooded in large part with drug or drug-related cases. All available indicators warn that drug activity, once thought to be only an epidemic, is now virtually out of control. The impact of drug litigation on our courts can be witnessed not only in our big cities, but also in our suburbs and small towns. And we know that the most troubling aspect of all of this is the implication for the future, because these statistics involve our young people in tragic numbers—either as the perpetrators or as the victims of crime.
It was concern for our children that compelled the Supreme Court Probate Task Force, in its 1987 report, to recommend the creation of a Department for Children and Family Services. That this concern for our children wasn’t just a Judicial branch concern but was shared by the Legislative and Executive branches is evidenced by the fact that on December 12, 1989, Governor Blanchard signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Representative Teola Hunter, Chair of the House Committee on Social Services and Youth, and Senator Jack Welborn, Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice and Urban Affairs Committee, regarding the elevation of the Office of Children and Youth Services to an autonomous agency, to be known as the Michigan Children and Family Service Agency. The Memorandum of Understanding further provides for the elevation of the new agency to the status of a department (a Department of Children and Family Services), by October 1, 1995. 1989 Journal of the Senate 2613 (No. 79, December 12, 1989).
I commend the Governor, Senator Welborn and Representative Hunter for their five-year plan. The importance of the plan must not be underestimated. Granted we will not save our children solely by the creation of a new department—but it is a beginning and a strong signal of our collective will. The message will be heard that in the months to come everything will be carried out in the interest of protecting the innocence of our children. Moreover, you have the assurance of all Michigan judges that we continue to be committed to a justice system that has as its overriding concern our children and the preservation of the family. We know that how we treat our children today will determine the kind of world that their children shall live in tomorrow.
No one in our state better understands this and the problems brought on by years of underplanning and underfunding than do our judges and, in particular, the chief judges of our state. That is why we honor our chiefs, and acknowledge their presence in the gallery, this morning.
The judges of our “One Court of Justice” join with me in recognizing our chief judges because we realize that it is they who must have the long-range plans, beyond the day-to-day problems with which they must deal; it is they who must square the crisis of today with the realities of tomorrow; it is they who must have the political skill to cope with several constituencies. And, finally it is they who must both manage and lead; they must have a sense of the possible and, by example and persuasion, lead the way.
We take this opportunity to salute their dedication and skill in managing our courts because we recognize that in large measure they are the “cement” that holds our Michigan court structure together. For this reason, I am delighted that so many of them and their colleagues, 147 by actual count, could be with us this morning.
I must confess to you, however, that I have a second reason for being pleased that so many of my colleagues accepted my invitation. I hoped that you could meet those in our court system who are bearing the brunt of our state’s inability to provide an equitable means of funding our courts. After having met with them and talked with them, I earnestly believe that you will better understand why there is an urgent need to evaluate the future direction and needs of Michigan’s courts.
It is our chief judges who must answer to their communities when necessary judicial services (mandated by our constitution) cannot be made available. And, it is our chief judges who must answer to their local county commissioners and district control units who argue that they can no longer bear the cost of funding their local courts.
But it is to me that the chief judges put these questions: Why haven’t you been able to communicate to the Legislature the urgency of our court system’s needs?
And, why have you failed over the past three years to obtain an agreement with the Legislature that would enable us to draw a blueprint for the future of our state’s court system? They remind me that the greatest experiment in history, our United States Constitution, was drafted in little more than ninety days.
It is for all of these reasons and because I respect and understand the difficult choices you must make, and because I support the need to make the most effective use of our finite resources, that I urged you in my State of the Judiciary Message two years ago to create an Article 6 commission for the sole purpose of reviewing the structure and the jurisdiction of the courts in Michigan.
Over the past decade, a number of states (Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, and most recently New York, to name a few) have established commissions to examine court structure and court funding. Many have determined that a unified trial bench is the bedrock upon which meaningful judicial reform has been built. Unification has enabled these states to make optimum use of human and technological resources and thus assure their citizens equal access to their courts.
The greatest challenge to our legal system today is to make accessible to the people of Michigan a just and effective judicial system. But accessibility to a just and effective court system cannot be just a judicial priority—it must be a legislative and executive priority, as well.
Much of the dissatisfaction expressed today about our laws and institutions are reflective of the public’s recognition that our institutions have not kept pace with the times. The voices for help, for change, come from many quarters. The helpless victims of crime, the frustrated litigants who wait for their cases to be heard, the Citizens Commission, the bias task forces, and the men and women of the bench and bar. These are the voices of the people of whom Chief Justice Burger spoke when he said, “From there on it is up to the people.” They have told us of the problems—it is now time for us to assist them in seeking the solutions. The ultimate moment in governance is reached when the independent branches of government focus on a matter of joint concern, committed to bringing the individuality of each branch to bear on solving problems in a coordinated way. I am most grateful this morning to be able to report to the people of Michigan such a moment.
On April 5, this Eighty-Fifth Legislature, by concurrent resolution, and in concert with the Executive branch and the Judicial branch, created a Twenty-First Century Commission on the Courts. Its charge: To study the future direction of our court system and to make recommendations regarding the jurisdiction and administration of Michigan’s courts. The fact that appointments to this commission will be made by each branch of government reflects our joint commitment to the survival of our system of justice. It evidences our devotion to the task of planning a court system designed to deliver equal justice for all. And it speaks of the quality of leadership the people of Michigan have come to expect from Governor Blanchard, Senate Majority Leader John Engler, and House Speaker Lewis Dodak in matters involving the Judicial branch of government.
The creation of the Twenty-First Century Commission on the Courts in time for Law Day, May 1, 1990, is a fitting way to give special meaning to the theme of this year’s Law Day, “generations of justice,” and it is particularly meaningful in this judicial year of our nation’s bicentennial. The commission will, I fervently hope, make it possible for us to keep our generation’s commitment to the twenty-first century.
For in the words of James Madison: “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it has been obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”
Two hundred years later, the pursuit continues. Today, together in partnership, we acknowledge our compelling need to act now to protect the family unit, to restore childhood for our children and to preserve our system of justice—lest our liberty, and the liberty of our children, be lost in the pursuit. An awesome responsibility, but a responsibility that is, as has been said, both “the burden and the glory of freedom.” President John F. Kennedy, State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1962.
* Reporter’s Note: The annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature is prepared and delivered by the chief justice after consultation with the justices of the Supreme Court. The views expressed in the address, however, do not necessarily represent those of all the justices.