JANUARY 6, 1981
JUSTICE FITZGERALD: As Deputy Chief Justice of the Court, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, I’m happy to welcome you to this ceremonial session of the Court. The normal rules of procedure which govern are suspended, and all of the guests and visitors are cordially invited to relax and enter into the informal spirit of this occasion. And those who care to do so may take pictures.
The Court has convened this special session to recognize officially the reelection on November 4, 1980, of two members of this Court, Justice CHARLES LEVIN and Chief Justice MARY S. COLEMAN. We’ve invited to witness and participate in this public oath-taking ceremony family, close friends, supporters, ranking representatives of the State Bar, and dignitaries from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches of the State Government. Now this is a normal business day of the Court. And we therefore propose to proceed without much pomp and circumstance, so that in due course the oral arguments long ago scheduled for today are heard. So following this session we will break briefly and reconvene at 11 a.m. for the purpose of hearing the oral arguments.
We do have a number of people we would like to introduce this morning to those assembled, and then we will proceed to the oath-taking ceremony. First from the Executive Branch, Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Attorney General Frank Kelley. From the Legislature, Speaker Bobby Crim, and Majority Leader Joe Forbes. From the Senate, Senator Don Bishop. And a former colleague of ours, former Justice LINDEMER. From the Court of Appeals, Chief Judge ROBERT DANHOF and his colleague, Judge BASHARA. Most of them are on the bench this morning, and we’re happy to have Judges DANHOF and BASHARA. The State Bar President, Dean Lewis. And past State Bar President and practitioner here in Lansing, Leo Farhat. And from the State Bar of Michigan, Mike Franck, Executive Director of the State Bar. And from here in Lansing, Circuit Judge James Kallman, representing the Michigan Judges Association.
And representing the Probate and Juvenile Judges, Probate Judge Bob Drake. The Solicitor General of our state, Robert Derengoski. And in the back of the room also from the Attorney General’s office, a gentleman that we frequently have dealings with, Mr. Krasicky. Now have I overlooked anyone here in the representatives from the various branches of government? If not, I’m going to turn the proceedings over to Chief Justice COLEMAN for a few remarks and then we’ll proceed with the oath-taking ceremony. Chief Justice COLEMAN.
CHIEF JUSTICE COLEMAN: I am going to make my remarks from the podium because they will precede my oath taking. The oath of office will be administered to me by my husband, Judge Creighton Coleman, who is present in the courtroom, obviously.
I tried to write some words of wisdom, and I did write quite a few words, but I do not know how wise they were. The problem was that they came out feeling to me rather stilted, when what I wanted to say was more from the heart than from the mind, so that is from where I am speaking instead of from a script. I wanted first to focus my thoughts upon a narrow sliver of illumination, if you will, hoping that some of it might be reflected in your minds when you left here. A further problem was that each thought that I tried to put into a narrow focus then fragmented something like a skyrocket on the Fourth of July into many other thoughts.
For instance, the obvious thought, the one that occurred to me so often when I stood in this position eight years ago, was that no one alone can win this election, or perhaps any, but especially a statewide election to the Supreme Court, a court of low visibility. One needs many people, all kinds of people in all parts of the state. And what is really astonishing to me is the number of people who actually have been involved, many of whom, perhaps most of whom, I have never met. I know the names. I started writing letters to people who have helped me and my staff has assisted me. I think we sent out around 2,000 and we haven’t really begun to thank all of the people who have contributed significantly to this election.
The wide involvement is a good thing. Traveling all over the state is a good thing, if I did not have to operate the Court along with it, and keep up with the work of the Court. But it was good, if difficult.
For instance, I went into the Upper Peninsula. In Marquette, for example, a young lady had traveled over from Ironwood to say she was my chairman there and she wanted to meet me, so she had traveled far to do that. I had not known her before that. Many people from the City of Detroit and in all the reaches of Michigan have worked on monumental chores for somebody they did not even know except by reputation. However, this thought led to the next one.
And that is that I think the method of selecting justices in this state is not good. What I have just related is good. But when I look at the system as a whole it is not sound. We have a pseudo-nonpolitical system of selecting the justices. It is pseudo because we are nominated by party, and of course I am happy to depend a great deal upon party people for help. However, you do not win elections to a nonpartisan position such as this by your party alone, so one is in a very anomalous situation. I would propose, and I hope in the next session of the Legislature, either through that route or through referendum, that we can consider a new method of selecting the justices.
Another facet of Supreme Court elections, or another fragment, if you will, is the fund raising. Consider us, we are not usually wealthy persons. My husband and I have been public servants for much of our lives–not always, for we practiced law together for quite a while and that was great. But by and large we have been public servants. You do not accumulate much money as such. You pay a great part of it back in taxes, in the first place. However, who contributes to the election of a justice? Lawyers. The first thing that happened to me was that there was a nice article in the newspaper with some lawyer complaining about fund raisers involving lawyers. On the other hand, who is more interested in who sits on this Court than lawyers–or other special interests? We like to think that people everywhere are interested in the Supreme Court and would wish to contribute, and many do. But by and large, most people do not even know who we are. That presents another problem.
I mentioned the fact that it is wonderful traveling around the state and campaigning, but again we must rely on some more wonderful people, aside from all of those who have participated in the election process itself. I’d like to acknowledge the staff of this Court who carried on so beautifully. While Justice LEVIN and I were out campaigning, they helped us immeasurably because the work of the Court does not stop for elections. It does slow down. And this poses another problem. The day-to-day work goes on, and we must try to keep up with ours in the same way as those who are not campaigning. This happens every two years, because justices are running for reelection every two years (our terms are staggered). Therefore we just revive from the impact of one election when we are working on another one. The work does fall behind. We do try to catch up as rapidly as possible, but it is most difficult.
That is illustrative of where my thoughts skyrocketed from the gratitude that I feel so keenly today toward everyone who has helped us through this difficult situation, and to our return to this Bench.
Personally, I cherish the opportunity to serve the People of Michigan through election to the Supreme Court. Here is “where it happens.” Here is where laws are tested. Here is where many laws are in effect made, because whatever we say the law is that is the law. I understand in my heart of hearts the great responsibility, the awesome responsibility that attaches to this position. And I appreciate the opportunity to serve.
This next term will see the realization of one of the Court’s long, old dreams, and that is the state funding of courts. We will implement the first step toward the state funding of all of the courts of Michigan. The concept has been a little distorted in the past by saying that this is a court reorganization for Wayne County, a way to bail Wayne County out of its problems. And in a sense, that is a byproduct. However, the main product of the legislation which has just been passed, and for which I am most grateful, is the first step toward the state funding of all other of the courts of Michigan also. Financially, Michigan is in trouble. Everybody knows that we have great fiscal problems. This, however, is not confined simply to the state operations, but sifts down to all of the county operations. Everyone is having problems at this point in time with the funding of all governmental operations, and the courts are not excluded. Our own appropriations have been cut dramatically. We are doing what we can to comply. The administration of these courts will become more difficult because of the fiscal restrictions and cutbacks. However, we have made this first step toward what I think is going to be a great new future. I promise nobody a rose garden, and I never have, in the commencement of the state funding of courts. It is going to be tough. It is going to be difficult. And it is going to mean a great many problems until we can smooth out the operation—until we can work out all of the tangles. But this is a challenge which I am ready to tackle, and I hope that all of my colleagues are ready too, because we are all going to be involved.
I want to say a word about my colleagues. Each one of us is very different. We have a beautiful Court. I hope you don’t mind that word, gentlemen, but it is a great Court in my opinion because of the fact that each of us is so different. Each contributes something unique. Each of us has a role to fill, and each plays that role very well. I am grateful to them for all of the support that they have given me. Even this morning, most recently, they have again elected me as Chief Justice, unanimously. I am a little choked up as I think of that election because there is much behind it. However, I am pleased to serve in this capacity again, even with all of the challenges that do await.
I want to thank every person who is here and many who are not here, of course, who helped me regain the position of Justice on the Supreme Court so I could be elected Chief Justice again. Particularly I want to acknowledge my State Chairman, Rick Simonson, and Shirley McFee, who was my headquarters chairperson who kept everything moving all over the state and coordinated all of it. And most of all, I thank my husband. I would not have run for office had it not been for his encouragement, and his help. He has again done what he did eight years ago when we had planned a vacation abroad, but when we saw Michigan in toto. He again took his vacation to drive me around the State of Michigan. He has worked with my campaign people. He has been my supporter in every way. And as I have often said, if every man, and particularly every husband, were like my husband, there would be no reason for the women’s movement. We’d have it made. So it is with great pleasure that I ask him this morning to administer me the oath of office, even as he did eight years ago. This is a repeat of a very special moment in my life.
CRIER: All rise.
JUDGE CREIGHTON R. COLEMAN: Do you solemnly swear that you will support the Constitution of the United States, the constitution of this state, and that you will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Michigan, according to the best of your ability, so help you God?
CHIEF JUSTICE COLEMAN: I do.
Now I would like to take over from my colleague, Justice FITZGERALD. We have a very special moment in my life again, and that is when another colleague, Justice CHARLES L. LEVIN, will be administered the oath of office. This oath of office also is going to be a family affair. His wife will administer that oath of office. And we have here a special order which I will read to you:
“On order of the Court, good cause therefore being shown, Patricia 0. Levin is hereby appointed for the purpose of administering the oath of office as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan, to the Honorable CHARLES L. LEVIN.” The citation is “MCL 600.1442; MSA 27A.1442,” signed by MARY S. COLEMAN, Chief Justice.
JUSTICE LEVIN: May it please the Court, first I wish to concur wholeheartedly in the substantive remarks of the Chief Justice a few moments ago.
To my colleagues who are here today, as well as the former Justices and Judges of the Court of Appeals with whom I was privileged to serve, I extend thanks for making the last 14 years a stimulating and enriching experience. I have valued your fellowship and your insights in times of agreement and in times of disagreement.
As I look back on my first term on this Court and forward to my second, it seems appropriate to reflect upon the judicial system and this Court’s role in it–what it has been, is now and may become in the future.
This Court has the ultimate responsibility for administering Michigan’s one court of justice. Our primary method of administration has been the review of individual cases presented to us on appeal. Some of our administrative efforts, to be sure, are through Court Rules. But in terms of the time and energy allocated by the Justices and, under our direction, by our staff, the bulk of our efforts has been in the form of case-by-case review.
As the volume of cases, and the number of courtrooms, increases, I question whether we can adequately meet our responsibility by continuing our historical concentration on the passive review of individual cases which happen to be brought to us on appeal.
We are a court of limited membership, yet the number of courtrooms we are responsible for supervising is steadily increasing. The number of cases we have the capacity to consider is relatively constant, yet the number of cases being filed and litigated in the judicial system is rapidly increasing. The natural consequence is that the fraction of cases and issues which are actually reviewed by this Court is continually shrinking.
I believe the time will come, if it has not already arrived, that this fraction will become too small to adequately serve as our primary means of administering the system. If we can review but one case in a hundred or a thousand, I question not only whether we can reasonably expect that our guidance will be effective, but also whether we can reasonably expect to adequately canvass the spectrum of issues entrusted to our supervision and control.
I believe that, for the future, the proper discharge of this Court’s responsibility for the administration of justice requires that it look beyond case-by-case adjudication, which is characterized by long reaction time and specificity of focus, and devise new and more active means of informing itself how justice is administered in Michigan courts, how well it is administered, and how it could be better administered. The increasing volume of cases, and the increased role of the courts in modern life requires that a State Supreme Court for the 1980’s think of itself as managing a system dispensing justice as well as a Court examining individual cases.
We can no longer rely exclusively on the method of individual case review to bring to our attention weaknesses in the operation of the system to which a rule should be addressed. We see too few cases.
Some method of monitoring the actual operation of the judicial system in all its breadth is necessary.
The justice of injustice of the judicial system is ultimately our responsibility. Because the individual case method results in our leaving too much of that system neglected, we must change. We should give some more active method of investment of time and energy commensurate with the passive case review method.
While it may be useful to speculate on reforms, the first step is to recognize the problem. I question whether our Court can continue to devote the overwhelming majority of its time to individual case review as the primary means of administering the justice of the system, when that method increasingly causes us to neglect more of the system than we treat.
In closing, I would add that it has been a humbling experience to confront the enormousness and difficulty of the challenges we face in supervising the judicial branch of government. However, I welcome the opportunity to continue to meet and address these challenges in the years ahead. I shall continue to strive to justify the confidence placed in me by those who have worked and voted to keep me in this high office.
I wish to express my appreciation to all who are here, to my colleagues on this Court, and the other judges of other courts attending these ceremonies. Your presence is personally appreciated and adds greatly to the occasion. And before the oath is administered I would like to introduce some of the members of my family who are here in addition to my wife. Our son Fredrick, and our daughter Amy, my mother, and my brother Joseph.
CRIER: All rise.
MRS. LEVIN: Would you please raise your right hand and repeat after me. I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duty of the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan, according to the best of my ability.
JUSTICE LEVIN: I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duty of the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan, according to the best of my ability.