Steve Bieda thinks there’s enough support to get a constitutional amendment on the 2014 Michigan ballot that would remove what some see as an arbitrary and outdated restriction on when judges can no longer seek re-election.
The first-term Democratic state senator from Warren and state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) are co-sponsors of a joint resolution that, if passed by two-thirds majorities in both the state Senate and state House of Representatives, would put before voters a ballot question that would eliminate a prohibition on being elected or appointed as a judge after reaching 70 years of age.
Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) U received unanimous support from the state Senate Judiciary Committee, which Jones chairs, last week in one of the first efforts that panel took up in the fall legislative session.
Bieda, who is the minority chairman of that committee, said the current constitutional provision dates back to the writing of Michigan’s 1906 state Constitution — which was written when the average life-span was 52 years.
That provision is “from a different time and place,” he said.
Bieda and Jones aren’t the only ones who seem to think that.
The Michigan Judicial Selection Task Force, a 24-member panel helmed by state Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, a Democrat, and Republican 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James L. Ryan, came to the same conclusion when it included that among a slew of recommendations it made for reforms to the court system in Michigan.
State Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford Township, Milford Village, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) seems agreeable to the proposal.
“There are plenty of people that are sitting on the bench that are in their late 60s, and they are terrific judges,” he said. “It’s really a shame that we have a one-size-fits-all law (that says) after you’re 70-years-old, you can no longer serve as a judicial candidate. I think it needs to be looked at and modernized. Probably 30, 40 years ago, 70-years-old was considered old.”
Kowall called the case of Oakland County Circuit Court Family Division Judge Edward Sosnick, who can’t run for re-election this year due to his age, a “classic example” of what some see as the flawed nature of the current constitutional provision.
“(He’s) a guy that has all is wits about him, is sharp as a tack, is a terrific judge and has proved it over and over again,” he said.
“I think it should be looked at,” Sosnick said of the constitutional limitation on judges’ age in a recent interview with the Spinal Column Newsweekly. “That’s why I’m against term limits for sure when it comes to judges because it takes you years to get the experience and knowledge and the way to look at and solve problems and decide things. It’s a shame to lose all that experience.”
SJR U now heads to the full state Senate for that 38-member body’s consideration.
Bieda said if SJR U doesn’t receive the necessary support from the state Legislature during the current session, he will reintroduce the proposal during the 97th state legislative session, which convenes in January 2013.