Happy birthday Thomas Cooley

Thomas M. Thomas CooleyCooley was born on this date 192 years ago — January 6, 1824. Like many of Michigan’s early justices, Cooley was born in New York state and moved here as a young man. Cooley settled in Adrian, Michigan, in 1843, and was admitted to the bar in 1846.

Read more about Cooley in the fall issue of our newsletter here, including the December 1883 letter that he wrote to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller.


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Set Your DVRs Now!

anatomyJustice John Voelker’s best selling novel-turned-Academy Award nominated film, Anatomy of a Murder, will air on Turner Classic Movies at 5 p.m. Wednesday, December 16.

It is part of an entire day dedicated to law & order on the classic film channel. Other features include Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution and 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. For the full listing of what airs when, visit the TCM website here.

To read more about Anatomy of a Murder and watch a clip, visit IMDB here. The film poster at left is available for purchase here ($$$).

Learn more about John Voelker’s time on the Michigan Supreme Court by reading his biography here; his role in the Verdict of History here; and oral history here. He even has his own Foundation here.

Will you be watching??

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Luminarias de la Ley


Long before Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Dorothy Comstock Riley was lighting the way in Michigan as the first Hispanic woman to be elected to a state supreme court.

A new exhibit at the University of Denver, called Luminarias de la Ley, features Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley and other notable Latina women in the law. You can read more about the project here.

Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley was born December 6, 1924, and achieved many firsts as a woman practicing law during the middle of the twentieth century. In 1976 she became the first woman on the Michigan Court of Appeals. She was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982 and elected in 1984. She was selected by her peers to become the second woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in 1987, and was part of the first female majority court in 1997 (four of the seven justices were women).

Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley died on October 23, 2004. Her legacy lives on in the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, which she founded in 1988, and in a new permanent exhibit about the First Women on the Court in the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center. You can schedule a tour of the Learning Center here.

Read more about Dorothy Comstock Riley’s life and career here.

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The Bench

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The Bench, written by former Chief Justice Thomas E. Brennan and first published in 1997, is an alternative history of the Michigan Supreme Court. The novel tells the stories of fictionalized justices Edward Breitner, Alton Henry, Doris Templeton, Frederick van Timlin, Bob O’Leary, Hilda Germaine, Julia Hudson, and Jim Malloy.

The Bench is now available from the Society for just $10.00, with proceeds benefitting our work to preserve the real history of the Michigan Supreme Court. Reply to this post if you want a copy. It makes a great beach read!

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Elizabeth Weaver

Elizabeth Weaver was the 98th justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, and the fifth woman to serve on the state’s highest court. She was elected to the court in November 1994, replacing Justice Robert P. Griffin who had retired. Both resided in the Traverse City area, having been born elsewhere (Griffin in the Detroit area and Weaver in New Orleans, Louisiana). Justice Weaver’s death on April 22nd followed Justice Griffin’s by just six days.

To learn more about Justice Weaver, read her biography and investiture ceremony on our website.

Additional details can be found at the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home and the SBM Blog.

Rest in peace Justice Weaver.

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Robert Griffin

It is with sadness the Society reports the death of former Justice Robert P. Griffin, who served on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1987-1994.

To read more about Justice Griffin’s life, please visit his biography or one of the special sessions in which he was involved: investiture, retirement, and portrait presentation. Justice Griffin also recorded an oral history.

His obituary is from the Reynolds Jonkhoff Funeral Home in Traverse City.

For more in the news:

Rest in peace Justice Griffin.

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Blind Justice

Many Michigan citizens have never set foot inside the Michigan Supreme Court in Lansing. But an interview with the court’s newest justice, Richard Bernstein, can give any viewer a brief glimpse of the court’s behind-the-scenes areas as well as an overview of how the court operates.

Justice Bernstein made history as the first legally blind person elected to the Michigan Supreme Court last November. He speaks in the interview about how he will perform the duties of his new position, saying that he relies on memory and internalization of details. The video [which you can watch here] shows Justice Bernstein on the bench in the courtroom, donning his robe, and walking the back halls of the Hall of Justice–where most of us have never been. Bonus points, however, if you can identify the portrait at the :57 second mark of the video.




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Western Michigan University Political Science Professor Mark Hurwitz was on WMUK today talking about Michigan’s system for nominating judges. You can listen to the interview here. He begins talking about how the system evolved in Michigan at 12:45. You can also read the speech he gave to the membership at the 2011 Annual Luncheon here or download the article that was published in Judicature here. Professor Hurwitz received a grant from the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society to study this topic.

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BigFourSMLeft to right are Justices James V. Campbell, Benjamin Graves (standing), Thomas M. Cooley (center), and Isaac P. Christiancy 1868-1875.

The portrait of the Big Four was painted a century after the justices began their service together. It was commissioned by Lincoln Park attorney Frank G. Mixter and his family and donated to the State Bar of Michigan. In 2005 the State Bar presented the portrait to the Michigan Supreme Court in a special session. You can read all about it here.

Interestingly, then-Chief Justice Clifford Taylor spoke about The People on relation of Daniel S. Twitchell v. Amos C. Blodgett, which was also the topic of this year’s Annual Luncheon. Read his remarks to learn a bit more about the case.

And as we start a new week, be encouraged by these words from Justice Michael F. Cavanagh, whose service to the people of our state on the Michigan Supreme Court rivals that of Big Four Justice James V. Campbell.

Sometimes we let ourselves off the hook a bit as we think about those who have done very well in life. We like to imagine that they had some special gift that we lack. But there is a very striking element in the remarks that were made upon the deaths of each of the Big Four. As speaker after speaker rose to offer extravagant praise, many still made a very specific point of saying these men were not geniuses, that they were not unusually brilliant or gifted men. They were four hard-working fellows brought together by circumstance and history and asked to help a fledgling state begin to form its laws and traditions. They became heroes by doing the ordinary parts of their job with integrity and with energy.

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Civil War

Are you getting excited for the Society’s Annual Luncheon in just over a week?! It’s not too late to purchase a ticket or buy a table–but almost! Register here.


To get you in the right frame of mind, our newest issue of the Society Update is chock-full of Civil War history. From the iconic image representing the start of the war, Currier & Ives Bombardment of Fort Sumter, through to the portraits of Civil War Justices, this issue is dedicated to that war which turned brother against brother.

Let us conclude with President Abraham Lincoln’s words from the Gettysburg Address:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Hope to see YOU next Thursday!

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