Ceremonies Closing The Capitol Courtroom

MARCH 3, 1970

COURT CRIER: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan is now in session.

 CHIEF JUSTICE T. E. BRENNAN: In less than one hour the six Justices, five, I believe, unfortunately Justice ADAMS was detained and Justice KELLY is out of town, the five Justices seated here for this session will rise; the Crier’s gavel will sound, and this room will cease to be the chamber of the Michigan Supreme Court.

We have come here— we are honored to have the presence of past Justices of this Court with us today: Mr. Justice CLARK ADAMS, Mr. Justice THEODORE SOURIS, and Mr. Justice TALBOT SMITH, are present in the courtroom. There are six others, six other living former Justices of this Court, who were unable to be with us here today. In addition to those, we have leaders of the House and Senate, members of their judiciary committees, representatives of the Chief Executive of our state and of the Attorney General, the Supreme Court Administrator, our Clerk, and our staffs, and, certainly, distinguished leaders of the bar.

We have come here to mark this occasion; to observe this event with appropriate ceremony. It falls to me, as the Chief Justice, to make this opening statement. While the office I hold dictates that I should do this, I am warmly conscious of my poor measure to the task, for this is a time that fairly begs to be given over to nostalgia and filled with remembrances of other days and other faces; days before I came here, and faces which I never saw. It is a time when the oldest man in this room should be able to recall with unseasonable clarity his earliest appearance at this bar. It is a time when names once familiar, but long unspoken, should be made to resound again upon these walls, so hallowed by their service, so honored by their lives. It is, in short, a time when men of sentiment and a sense of history are wont to look and listen for ghosts – and be most apt to see and hear them. For there is a continuity to human affairs and a life in human institutions which is more real than musty records and printed volumes can hold. And, this is a place – and a mourning – in the life of the Michigan Supreme Court which needs to be seen with human eyes, and heard with human ears, and recorded in the mortal hearts and the immortal souls of human beings.

It is good for us to do this and to remind ourselves that this old courtroom we close today has been the chambers of the Court and not the Court itself, because a Court is not a room or a building: it is people. This courtroom is old at 90 years; the Supreme Court is young at 133. Good men, brave men, wise men, strong and studious, dedicated and independent men, have in those 133 years interchanged their ideas and entwined their lives to weave the fabric of Michigan’s decisional law, and to bestow the gift of ordered liberty to generations of freemen yet unborn. It is in homage to them, to those generous men, departed Justices and living former Justices who have graced this Bench, that our Court sits today in formal session.

It is my privilege first to call upon Mr. A. D. Ruegsegger, President of the State Bar, for some remarks on behalf of the bar.

 A. D. RUEGSEGGER: Chief Justice, Justices of this Honorable Court, former Justices, representatives of the executive and legislative branches of the government of this great state, and distinguished guests— It is, indeed, an honor and a privilege to represent the State Bar of Michigan here today. I cannot say, without reservation, that it is wholly a pleasant task as there is too much of history and for some like myself, who have appeared many times in this courtroom, of fond and nostalgic memories to lightly turn away when its doors are locked. We are, however, pleased that this Honorable Court will, in the future sit in more contemporary physical majesty, under more lumens of light, surrounded by more pleasing acoustics and better insulated against the rigors of Lansing’s summer temperatures.

It is true that courts need and must have a physical plant which lends itself to their purposes, both in functional terms and in the intangibles of appearance, impression and aesthetics. No less is this true, of course, about the executive and legislative branches whence came the impetus for this and similar moves, today and yet to come, in the facilities which house our state government.

I had the pleasure, a couple of weeks ago, of hearing Justice John W. King of the Superior Court of the State of New Hampshire and also former governor of that state address a meeting of the American Judicature Society in Atlanta on this very subject; namely, the problem of courthouses and court facilities inadequate to their purpose. The title of this address was “A Standard for Modern Justice”. In it he said:
“Like all facets of our society, our judicial system in these turbulent years is being sorely tested in the crucible of change. * * * In some areas that system has been in the vanguard of social change— as a matter of fact, it has itself generated a substantial portion of it. But, in other areas, our system is woefully, and even dangerously, behind the times.”

Justice King then goes on to cite the many instances of inadequate housing of the courts that exists in many parts of this country today.

He would be pleased to know, I am sure, that in Michigan a part of that problem, at least, has been solved.

But as our own Supreme Court moves on in its travels toward a permanent and presumably more functional home, the Court and all who are associated with it know that they are leaving a little of themselves here today.

This courtroom was not the Supreme Court’s first, of course. It never witnessed the presence of the first territorial Chief Justice, the Honorable AUGUSTUS BREVOORT WOODWARD, of whom the well-known chronicler Henry A. Chaney was later to write: “A marvel of personal untidiness, even among pioneers, and his imperious will was such that no mortal man could get along with him unless he submitted to it.”

Neither did it ever house our first state Chief Justice, the Honorable WILLIAM A. FLETCHER, of whom Chaney writes in similarly colorful and irreverent vein.

It cannot even be said that this was the room where first met Michigan’s first “independent” Supreme Court created in 1857, the first not composed of circuit judges with other courts to preside over as well.

But it has housed many of the great names in Michigan jurisprudence, must notably, perhaps, three of the so-called “big four,” Justices COOLEY, CAMPBELL and GRAVES, who with Justice CHRISTIANCY comprised what Chaney has the “The Great Court.”

Justice CHRISTIANCY left the Court whilst this building was still rising, to become a United States Senator.
But COOLEY, CAMPBELL and GRAVES held forth here, doing much to lay the foundation for the law as we know it even today.

In this room have been argued so many of the landmark cases; here have been rendered so many of the basic decisions; here have been proposed and adopted so many of the rules which form the basis of our judicial and legal system today— a system not perfect, perhaps, since it was fashioned by human hands and minds, but one in which those who are part of it now can with justification take some measure of pride.

Not the least of these rules and decisions, I should note, are those which helped to create and shape the State Bar of Michigan as an integrated bar, as an arm of the Court to aid in it its proper quest for justice for the people of Michigan.
It is an old room now, a bit out of aesthetic fashion, which is not all bad, since its age and appearance have helped to remind all who entered that the law is not something new and sprung full-blown from today’s minds and enactments, but rests on a long line of tradition and precedent.

And yet we know that tradition and precedent are not all that there is to the law, that innovation and change in response to changing circumstances are as well a part of the process of making the law serve society well.

So the Supreme Court moves out of this courtroom today, as it moves from time to time in other ways, giving up something but, we must hope, gaining something as well.

It may be that a ceremony of farewell to a venerable courtroom does not have quite the ecclesiastical force and effect of a ceremony deconsecrating a church.

Yet for those here today whose lives may almost literally be said to center on the law, this room partakes in a way of a spirit not unlike that of a church.

It is a place dedicated to a spiritual concept called justice. It has been, for nearly a century, the heart-site of the system by which we in Michigan have pursued justice. It has been in fact a temple of justice and we cannot and do not today turn our backs on it without noting what it has meant and how it has served through all those years.

It is open to us to hope that the best of what this room has symbolized over those years will remain with us as we walk out through these doors for the last time, to settle with us in such new and different places as the Court may from time to time occupy, to remain as a guide and reminder of what we seek in the law, and why.

I thank you, again for the opportunity of joining in this ceremony. Thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE T. E. BRENNAN: Thank you, Mr. Ruegsegger. Next, I have the privilege of presenting Mr. Joseph Thibodeau, legal adviser to His Excellency, Governor William Milliken.

 MR. THIBODEAU: Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished Justices, former Justices, Mr. Ruegsegger, members of the legislature, and honored guests.

In view of Mr. Ruegsegger’s reference to the questionable conduct of the first Territorial Chief Justice, the following vignette might not be inapropos: “That policeman ought to arrest himself and take himself to the station house,” said a gentleman from Missouri last evening, as he sprang backward to avoid a lurching bluecoat who was taking up the entire sidewalk on a side street not many blocks distant from the Hocking Valley benefit at Madison Square Garden. “You may laugh at the idea of a man arresting himself,” he continued, when he and his companion had watched the convivial policeman disappear around the corner, “but I have known of such things being done often out west. Down in southern Missouri where I come from we had a judge a few years ago who divorced himself. It happened in Rollo, Missouri. His wife was getting a little old and faded, and the judge, who was a well preserved man, wanted a younger companion. He made life very uncomfortable for her and she went away to pay a visit to her sister. The judge immediately took advantage of her absence and filed a petition in his own court charging his wife with desertion. The case came up in about a month afterward, and he announced his intention of trying the case himself. His wife, for some reason, did not contest, and the judge granted himself an absolute divorce.”

Clearly excesses such as this do not exist in our courts today, but there are indications, disturbing ones, that many of our citizens, in particular our young people, have little or no respect for the “Establishment,” which conjures up in their minds many things, but, in particular, the administration of justice and especially through the courts.

It is crucial that members of the bar, and in particular the courts, reinstall faith in these institutions. The only alternative is demonstrations, such as were recently carried on in Ann Arbor, in East Lansing, and in Berkley, and elsewhere throughout the country. The result of that alternative is complete anarchy, the logical extension of which and reaction to which is tyranny.

In responding to a toast made to the Supreme Court of the United States, a former Chief Justice of that Court, I think eloquently said: “The thought underlying its proposal is not the general jurisdiction of the great tribunal which the toast names, but rather the power conferred upon the Court to interpret and uphold the Constitution and to declare all acts which transcend its limitations to be void, thus sustaining the lawful authority of the nation, protecting the legitimate powers of the states and securing to all people the enjoyment of their constitutional safeguards.”

He continued: “Thus fixing the subject for consideration, the first thought that comes to my mind in view of the vastness of this power is how completely its creation or recognition and the provisions for the mode of its exercise express the faith of the fathers in free government and the power of a free people to perpetuate the same. I say this because the very conception of the power in and of itself was a manifestation of the profound faith which was in them, and because the mode provided for the exertion of that power from its simplicity, accentuated and made more self-evident the abiding faith by which they were controlled. Thus, while as to practically every other power created, checks and balances of various kinds were resorted to to limit the mode of the exercise of the power, or to give sanction to it when exerted, as to the power to interpret and to enforce, the Constitution conferred upon or recognized as existing in judicial authority. No checks were interposed and no sanctions whatever were ordained concerning its exertion. The power, great as it was, therefore, in its ultimate conception being made to rest solely upon the approval of a free people.”

That is a tremendous power and it carries with it a tremendous responsibility and, without hoping to appear to be pontificating— certainly not a proper thing for such a neophyte member of the bar to do as myself – and saying the following only with the greatest of deference properly owing to this august Court, I hope that I am not out of order in attempting a few observations:

As with other institutions, the courts perform a vital function, but it is the function of the Court that, I think, is particularly unique. It must be a paradoxically stable and flexible cornerstone of society, to be stable enough to direct its peers through an unprecedented rate of change, and to be flexible enough to adapt itself to that change; to be, as Roscoe Pound said, “social engineers.”

Of the many attributes of character readily recognized to this function I think we can single out three as, perhaps, preeminently noteworthy. These are intellection, integrity and individuality. Though readily admitted to be required, intellection is an elusive thing; it is analysis, which all lawyers should be prepared to do; it is more than the mere process of analysis for that is only abstraction and association. With more importantly a part of the intellection, is awareness. The bar and the courts must strive, I think, to become increasingly aware of ourselves and our environments, and the reciprocal effect of each on the other. Particularly does this apply to lawyers and the courts because, above all others, we must be conscious of the faults of our society.

Secondly, integrity: We don’t mean by integrity just a sense of honor. Integrity should connote to us the wholly integrated person— means man in his spiritual, intellectual, social and physical development. Lacking any one, he ceases to be complete. While each of these is to be developed fully, it must be kept in proper prospective each to the other. In short, integrity is living life by an unyielding hierarchy of values; it becomes an unalterable guide to our own development, and ultimately to our effect on other men.

Lastly, we consider individuality important. Identity of the person in his own right is as essential to stable function, especially the courts, and both to the individual and society, as breath is to physical life. Self-identification is neither an easy nor a short-range process; it takes a lifetime; it involves the communication of the specific person that each of us is. It means living life in the fullness of one’s own particular essence. It means to operate as independent of irrelevant external factors as is possible where matters of personal judgment, evaluation and decision are involved. This doesn’t mean to condone anarchy or rebellion; it does mean, however, having the courage to effect change where needed and possibly thwarted. And, on the other hand, to secure traditional values where needed and where they may be in danger of rejection. Only the courts can provide this influence. Only they, through their conduct and the judicious exercise of their great power can deserve and, in fact, demand the respect for law so desperately needed today. Upon them rests in a very real sense the fate of us all.

Thank you very much.

CHIEF JUSTICE T. E. BRENNAN: Thank you, Mr. Thibodeau. Next I have the honor of calling upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate of the State of Michigan, the Honorable Thomas F. Schweigert.

 MR. SCHWEIGERT: Chief Justice BRENNAN, honorable members of the supreme Court, distinguished guests, members of the legislature, and friends.

In recent months while substituting on numerous occasions for Governor Milliken, I have been called upon to extend a warm welcome to organizations, groups and distinguished individuals. This is the first time I have been called upon to extend a warm farewell, but since this is your party I am sure you will take that in the friendly spirit in which it is given.
Seriously speaking, this is, indeed, an auspicious occasion. What a story the walls of this sacred chamber could tell of the drama and the history that have taken place here since this stately capitol was dedicated as the new year of 1879 began. While we know the Michigan Supreme Court had been in existence more than 40 years before that, to all intents and purposes I am sure Michigan law as we know it today was interpreted essentially in this chamber. A biographer willing to delve into history could write some fascinating stories about the great names which have been associated with this chamber. As you take leave officially of these hallowed halls, I am sure you have some regrets. Its always difficult to leave history behind.

But, there is history to be made, too. In fact, perhaps, more now than at any time since our nation was founded our courts are making history. It is regrettable, indeed, that in these days of strife and unrest there are times when our courts themselves appear to be on trial. Distressed by riots, murders, assaults, and near insurrection, a majority of our people look toward our courts to provide society with a sense of security which it feels has been taken from it by rampaging militants.

It is difficult for many to understand actions of the Federal courts in many instances. The spectacle of the Chicago Seven has, without a doubt, caused great damage to the image of our courts. A newspaper poll shows that more than 90% of the people questioned applaud the stand taken by Judge Julius Hoffman in his handling of an extremely difficult case, and yet less than a week after he jailed the militants who were convicted by a jury of 12, a Federal court of appeals sprung them free. The fact that their head attorney left a trail of rioting behind him as he went about the nation encouraging further disturbances confuses Americans even more.

The current hassle in Washington, too, over confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice has done nothing to enhance the image of our court system. The average person sees all this and asks, “What? Must we select and confirm our Supreme Court Justices on a basis of their knowledge and treatment of the law, or on their likelihood of legislating certain social reforms?”

Just the other day in Phoenix, our Vice President said: “The assault by revolutionaries on the nation’s courts must be stopped if justice is to be preserved in America.” Vice-President Agnew said, and I quote: “Our courts don’t need lectures from self-appointed social critics or the annex of the rule of theatres. Within the courtroom, dissent must be orderly; the rule is persuasion, not intimidation. Whether right or wrong, a good many of our citizens have come to believe that many of our courts are more interested in protecting the criminal element than in protecting the law-abiding citizen.”

It is a sad commentary, indeed, when a person dares not step out on the streets of our national capitol, or almost any large city in the country, lest he be robbed, beaten, or even slain. I hasten to add that the courts of our nation are not substantially to blame for this situation, nor am I making any criticism of our distinguished assemblage here. But I am sure that even the distinguished jurists here today are keenly aware that because of the trend of events in our nation in the last five or ten years, the future of our court system will hinge largely upon its ability to restore public confidence in itself and to reassure the average citizens of our nation that the courts are here to protect the law-abiding rather than the criminal.
As you officially leave for your new, what we hope, temporary quarters, we in the legislature wish you well. Despite divisive tactics by some, we in the legislature will work hand-in-hand with you of the judiciary and with the administrative branch of government in the knowledge that if our state is to go forward and make the seventies the best decade of the century for the State of Michigan, ours must be a cooperative effort.

Thank you very much for the privilege of being here.

CHIEF JUSTICE T. E. BRENNAN: Thank you, Senator Schweigert. Before we call upon Dr. Peirce to speak a final benediction upon this room, I would like just briefly to comment upon the one incident which occurred in this room a long time ago, because I think it bears upon this business of respect for law and order and respect for our judicial system, which has been so eloquently considered by the speakers here this morning.

The occasion was a ceremony similar to this. It was to honor a man named Charles E. Stuart; the report of it appears in Volume 60 of the Michigan Reports. The speaker was the former lieutenant governor of the state, the Honorable Charles S. May. The year was 1887. Governor May said: “I believe the courthouse should still be an intellectual arena, where the intellectual gladiators of the law should contend for the prizes of victory and justice. I cannot hold that change to be for the better where the people cease to take interest in their trial courts, and cease to crowd the courthouses to listen to their advocates. In that brilliant picture which Macaulay has painted of ancient Athens at the height of her glory, it was the contests of the intellectual athletes which evoked the loudest shouts from that cultivated and wonderful people. Small credit to us, I think with our boast of intellectual advancement, if it be true that after nearly 2500 years the people desert our courthouses and flock to the rink, the minstrel show, and the ball ground. No, let us at least have the manliness to acknowledge this decline— temporary, we trust— from a great past. We still need our advocates and orators and statesmen. We need them for the just administration of the law, for our intellectual life, for the glory of art and letters, and, beyond all these, for the preservation of our free institutions.”

I would like now to call upon Dr. Jesse Pindell Peirce, minister of Plymouth Congregational Church, whose predecessor, Rev. T. P. Prudden, gave the benediction at the ceremony dedicating the Capitol on January 1, 1879. Dr. Pierce.

 DR. PEIRCE: Let us pray. Eternal God, judge of all the earth, before whom all of life is weighed, whose wisdom and power are unsearchable and whose mercy is without end, we pause before Thee as we take leave of this place where over the years our tradition of a nation of laws has been sustained in the State of Michigan. Hallow the memories of justice done, noble causes supported, judgments and decisions weighed, and rightly settled. Forgive the failures of wisdom, prejudices served, and human errors involved. We are thankful for the orderly process of determining right and wrong that has been the temper of these walls; for men of integrity and faithfulness who have here served mankind and Thee. May the blessings of mature judgment, tempered with wisdom and salted with good humor move with this Court to its new quarters that as a people we may honor and respect those who serve in any capacity this High Court of Justice, and that those who serve may be worthy of the sacred trust imposed in them by their fellowmen and Thee.

Be to all of us, O God, a guide to righteousness; grant us the grace to put the welfare of all above our own, and especially grant that the future may find this Court so dedicated to justice, so aware of human need, and so sensitive to its holy trust, all who serve in it or before it shall deserve the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.” In the name of Him who suffered injustice, but who inspires mankind with justice for all, even Jesus, called The Christ. Amen.

CHIEF JUSTICE T. E. BRENNAN: The Court will direct the proceedings had this morning to be spread upon the records and printed in the official reports of the Supreme Court of Michigan.

COURT CRIER: (Raps gavel signifying assembly to arise): Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan now stands adjourned without day in this courtroom.