Special Opening Ceremony Of The Michigan Supreme Court

OCTOBER 10, 1995

CHIEF JUSTICE BRICKLEY: We welcome you all to what was the original home of the Michigan Supreme Court.
I’m very pleased that so many of you were able to attend this rather historic session, this special session of the Michigan Supreme Court, and we would like to begin by introducing the President of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, Wallace Riley.

 MR. WALLACE D. RILEY: Thank you, your Honor. Good morning.

Mr. Chief Justice and justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, members of the bar in attendance, and ladies and gentleman.

There’s no place like home, and that’s more than the Detroit Tigers’ slogan. After twenty-five years, the Michigan Supreme Court opens court today in the old restored Supreme Court chamber. The last session of this eight-justice court was held on March 3, 1970, with Chief Justice THOMAS E. BRENNAN, the youngest chief ever, at thirty-nine, presiding.

It’s exciting to be back home in the old Supreme Court chambers, and, as the Court can observe, you are not home alone.

Before you begin your regular call of this opening fall session of the Court, the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society wishes to call attention to a few things historical about the chamber itself.

If we had been here 115 years and 283 days ago, we would have been dedicating this capitol building and this Supreme Court Chamber on January 1, 1879. Chief Justice JAMES VALENTINE CAMPBELL, one of the so-called “Big Four,” would have been presiding and swearing in Governor Causwell, the first governor inaugurated in the new capitol. Elijah Meyers, the capitol’s architect would be telling us of the particular attention he paid to the details of this room and of his design of the black walnut judges’ bench, at which you are seated, and the large screen of cabinets behind us. He would have pointed, with pride, to the decorative plaster work. Notably a frieze of simulated tiles in an Anglo-Japanese mode, reflecting a popular taste for Asian design in that day.

After the tenure of Elijah Meyers as the building architect, poinsettias in relief adorned the walls, and the ceiling motif was Pompeian, representing the atrium of a Roman House. You see reproduced gas chandeliers, like those which hung here in 1878, and the wall brackets designed in the same mode to provide additional light.

Much has been done in the last few years to make this room look today as you would have seen it at its opening dedication on January 1, 1879. The elaborately painted ceiling is one of the few in the capitol building which has never been painted over. The attention of a fine-arts conservator was required to save that ceiling. Plaster was stabilized, flaking paint was reattached, and it was all carefully cleaned. The carpeting is new, but copied from photos of the originals in 1870s style, colored in blue and red. All of this meticulous restoration has made this chamber one of the grandest in the capitol building, and no interior in the capitol presents a more brilliant palette.

The ceremonies closing the capitol courtroom may be found in Volume 383 of the Michigan Reports. Chief Justice THOMAS E. BRENNAN presided with a Court composed of Associate Justices DETHMERS, KELLY, BLACK, T. M. KAVANAGH, ADAMS, and T. G. KAVANAGH.

At that ceremony, the closing ceremony, Chief Justice BRENNAN stated, in part:

It is good . . . 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,

—And I editorialize here to point out that MARY STALLINGS COLEMAN was not elected to the Court until three years later—

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.

When the Court left the capitol building in 1970, they took with them the portraits of many of the Supreme Court justices which covered the walls of this chamber, save one, that of Chief Justice JAMES VALENTINE CAMPBELL, still hanging here.

Chief Justice CAMPBELL was born in Buffalo, New York in 1823 but came as an infant, with his family, to Michigan in 1826. He first took his seat on the Supreme Court in 1857, when the Court was organized in its present form, and he served thirty-three years thereafter until his death on March 26, 1890.

But, in the beginning, in this chamber on January 1, 1879, he was presiding, so isn’t it appropriate that his portrait, among all the others, was left hanging here for the twenty-five years that the Supreme Court has been away. He has been guarding and patiently awaiting the return of the Court, albeit only for this morning’s arguments.

The Society plans to add other restored portraits to these walls, so that Chief Justice CAMPBELL will have the company of colleagues as he continues his vigil until the day all the justices, then and now, hang in a Michigan Supreme Court building.

Speaking of a Michigan Supreme Court building, let the Governor and the Legislature and all the citizens of Michigan know that, if you build it, we will come.

There is among us here today a survivor of that Court, THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH, and I would now, with the Court’s permission, propose to call on the honorable former justice to return to a seat at the bench.

 JUSTICE KAVANAGH: Thank you Mr. Chief Justice, and justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.
I must say, the Court is a lot prettier now than when I was on it.

This brings back many memories, many memories. I remember HARRY KELLY sitting on that far end, where Justice WEAVER is now sitting, because Harry had trouble, having lost a leg in the First World War, getting in and out.

I remember JOHN DETHMERS, I remember them all. We were friends as well as colleagues, and nobody can serve on this Court and not have the greatest love and affection for it and all things connected to it.

I have prepared a short hour and a half speech this morning, but I will not give it. Suffice it to say, I am honored to be remembered, delighted to have a chance to participate in this historic occasion. I think it’s an excellent idea that the Court sit here once in a while because, if there is a prettier courtroom in the world, I’ve never seen it.

I want to introduce my dear colleague and dear friend, JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD. We were colleagues on the Court of Appeals before we both had the opportunity to serve on this Court. John is not only wiser but more eloquent than I and consequently I will now, with your permission, turn this over to him, and let him regale you with his recollections.

 JUSTICE FITZGERALD: Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, my name is, indeed, JOHN W. FITZGERALD, erstwhile member of this Court and presently educating a new generation of lawyers at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

As a member of an increasingly scarce species, former Chief Justices, it is a privilege to witness this birth of a tradition. Certainly, there could be no finer setting for this annual observance of the opening of the new term than this memorable courtroom. I have been acquainted with this room since my childhood, when I was chasing around the capitol, at the time my father was in office. And, over the years, as I have been in the capitol in various capacities, as a law clerk to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then as a state senator, I’ve often come to this chamber and I never have entered it without a sudden sense of reverence for the body of law that all of us here today serve in one capacity or another.

As I observe the sometimes circus-like elements of American life today, particularly noting aspects of our justice system, foundations of the system sometimes seem to be fleeting and floundering and ever-changing.

Then, I’m privileged to be here and know that the piercing glare of modern media can’t and won’t undermine the thoughtful consideration given to the questions of law. There are some final decisions that have to be made, and they still are respected as the law of the land, and those decisions emanate from places such as this, all over America.

This opening-day ceremony pinpoints the need for stability in our legal system, and it demonstrates that some things are immutable, such as the calm, quiet, deliberation that a room like this affords.

It is my fervent wish that this opening-day tradition continue until the day when, hopefully, our Supreme Court will be housed in it’s own building, here, in the capitol complex, the temple of justice, so to speak, that will demonstrate the co-equal status of our judicial branch of government with the executive and legislative branches.

Thank you, again, on behalf of myself and the Supreme Court Historical Society for the privilege of addressing this Court, and I wish you well for the 1995-96 court calendar.

CHIEF JUSTICE BRICKLEY: Thank you very much.

MR. RILEY: On behalf of the officers and directors and all of the members, there are over 500 now, of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, I want to thank the Court for allowing us to participate in what we truly hope will be the beginning of a tradition, that each year when the Court opens its term it will do so with arguments here, so that we can, if you will, keep a string on this courtroom and all of the memories that it has.

I mentioned a number of justices who sat here the last time the Court heard arguments, and one of those was JOHN DETHMERS. John, of course, has passed, but I would present to the Court, at this time, his son, Bob, who’s here, who’s a member of our board of directors, and who helps keep alive the memory of his father, who served for many, many years as Chief Justice and otherwise on this Court.

Again, thank you for allowing us to participate, we hope that we will see you soon. This completes the Supreme Court Historical Society’s portion of the program, thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE BRICKLEY: Can’t let you go, Mr. Riley, without thanking you for all you have done in the last several years. Some of us know exactly how much work you have actually put in, as well as those who are working with you. I would not have believed that you would have been able to accomplish as much as you have. You will be playing a major role in the continuity, preserving the continuity of this great institution.

We are really very grateful for all you have done, and this has been a wonderful ceremony this morning, very touching for all of us.

MR. RILEY: Since I’ve started with there’s no place like home, and “Home Alone,” I perhaps can conclude with simply saying, it’s all in the family.