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Who Will Succeed Young On The Bench?

April 5, 2017

Courtesty MIRS News

Gov. Rick SNYDER is being put in a position with which he’s gotten familiar — appointing a Supreme Court justice. For the fourth time in his tenure, the Governor will pick a Supreme Court justice and he has no shortage of possibilities to choose among.

After speaking with numerous sources close to the court, the name of Court of Appeals Judge Kurtis WILDER was mentioned most often, but his name was not the only one mentioned. 

Wilder would be a natural fit, considering that he, like retiring Justice Robert YOUNG, Jr., is an African-American with a textualist bent, which would mean his appointment would preserve some diversity on the court. Wilder, having successfully won re-election in a competitive election this past fall, is battle tested on the campaign trail and has shown interest in the Republican nomination for Supreme Court justice in the past. 

Wilder, who will be 58 this year, was appointed to the Court of Appeals by former Gov. John ENGLER in 1999 and could be theoretically elected to two full terms before hitting the constitutional age limit. 

However, fellow Appellate Judge Christopher MURRAY is also often mentioned for Supreme Court vacancies, being a 2002 Engler appointee who like Wilder is from Southeast Michigan. 

“I think a number of people think both he and Judge Wilder share the same kind of judicial philosophy that Bob Young has exhibited,” said longtime Republican judicial observer Bob LaBRANT

Former Solicitor General John BURSCH said either “would have to be at the top of anybody’s list.” 

Picking an existing judge would free up the opportunity for Snyder to make more appointments. But Bursch noted the Governor has the leeway to pick anyone he chooses, citing how Justice Joan LARSEN, who was working at the University of Michigan law school and had no experience as a jurist, was “plucked” by Snyder in 2015 to serve on the court. 

Bursch himself was mentioned as a possibility, as was Chief Deputy Attorney General Matthew SCHNEIDER, Appellate Judge Kirsten Frank KELLY, Appellate Judge Mike GADOLA and new Appellate Judge Colleen O’BRIEN, who once ran as a Republican for the Supreme Court. 

Gadola, Snyder’s former chief legal counsel, and O’Brien are both Snyder appointees, which could give them an edge considering he’s clearly thought highly of them in the past. Other Snyder appointees to the Court of Appeals include Michael RIORDAN and Mark BOONSTRA

Adding another wrinkle to the appointment are rumors that Justice Brian ZAHRA may be a candidate for an open federal judgeship in Michigan’s eastern district, a lifetime appointment with better pay. If Zahra were to leave, it would give Snyder a fifth Supreme Court appointment. 

Previously, Young had also served on the Court of Appeals for three years, where he had been appointed by former Gov. John ENGLER, who later appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1999. Young served as Chief Justice of the court for six years, and was succeeded by Justice Stephen MARKMAN at the beginning of this year.

Young said he will return to private practice with his old employer, the law firm Dickinson Wright, where he worked before first being appointed. 

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