State Chief Justice: Law is responsibility of ‘We the people’

Published 10:19 am Monday, April 5, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
EDWARDSBURG -- Opponents "look upon the judicial process much differently than I do. They look upon it as merely politics by another name, an extension of the political process. They see it as an opportunity to achieve policy ends that they can't achieve" legislatively.
Michigan Supreme Court 103rd Justice Stephen J. Markman of Mason, appointed Oct. 1, 1999, by Gov. John Engler to succeed James H. Brickley, previously served as U.S. attorney, or the chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Michigan as an appointee of President Bush.
He was an assistant U.S. Attorney General appointed by President Reagan. Early in his career, Markman worked for U.S. Rep. Edward Hutchinson, R-Mich. He and his wife have two teen-aged sons.
Judicial ethics prohibited use of Markman's name in promoting the Cass County Republican Party's annual dinner attended by about 170 people Saturday night at the Edwardsburg American Legion.
Markman said the Michigan Supreme Court receives 250 to 300 appeals per month from the 83 counties.
In seeking re-election this year, Markman will "reaffirm" the same five "unchanging promises" he made in 2000, starting with "the traditional obligation identified 200 years ago by Chief Justice John Marshall in the case of Marbury vs. Madison to say what the law is -- not what I may think the law ought to be.
Second, Markman reaffirms his promise to "faithfully interpret the words of the lawmaker, and to recognize that you, the people, are entitled to determine the course of your own government. This is the entire basis of the American constitutional experiment that has given us the most prosperous, the most stable nation in the history of the world … to say what they mean and to let the chips fall where they may."
Third, Markman vows to never lose sight of the fact "that individual responsibility and personal accountability are at the root of our civil justice system." Cases "that have really transformed the system" include the McDonald's hot coffee cup case or the drunk driver who sends a vehicle into a river, then sues the carmaker "because the car wasn't built like a tank. Or the person who sues the cable company because they're overweight because there's too much attractive stuff to watch on TV. You read about these cases every day in the newspaper."
Fourth, Markman reaffirms his promise to "support the stability and predictably of the law, so individuals and businesses can understand their rights and responsibilities."
When the Detroit Free Press editorialized that the conservative court is "monotonously predictable," he took it as a compliment.
If the statute says a filing must occur in 30 days, then "30 days means 30 days" with no exceptions. "When the law means what it says, it belongs to all Americans," Markman said.
Fifth, the first responsibility of government "is to protect citizens from violent criminal predators," he said. "That's the first of our civil rights. It's why government formed in the first place. I'll always be proud of the Michigan Supreme Court, about which the Wall Street Journal said, 'Perhaps there's no court in the United States that has been less receptive to novel theories by which violent criminals can escape responsibility for their actions than the Michigan Supreme Court.' "
It's a court "that works enormously hard to get it right" and to avoid "tragic mistakes" of incarcerating innocent citizens or releasing violent criminals back into the community.
Markman recalled that more than $10 million was spent to defeat him and two colleagues in 2000, but they prevailed in the "single most expensive judicial campaign in the history of the United States. You in this room and in rooms throughout Michigan came to understand the importance of judicial races at the very bottom of the ballot. We did extraordinarily well in Cass County, in particular.
Introduced guests included state Sen. Ron Jelinek of Three Oaks, who briefly addressed the $667 million deficit in the state's $38 billion budget; state Reps. Neal Nitz of Baroda and Rick Shaffer of Three Rivers; Circuit Judge Michael Dodge, who's seeking re-election; Probate Judge Susan Dobrich; Prosecutor Victor Fitz; Sheriff Joe Underwood; Treasurer Linda Irwin; Clerk-Register Ann Simmons; Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Wagel of Dowagiac; Commissioners Carl Higley, Mike Raab and Dixie Ann File; Drain Commissioner Jeff VanBelle; and former Berrien County prosecutor John Smietanka, the previous GOP nominee for Attorney General, who represented Holly Hughes for Republican National Committeewoman.