McCormack's Supreme Court run emphasizes non-partisanship


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bridget Mary McCormack enjoys answering the tough questions.

So, when asked whether she thinks it is a disadvantage that she has never served as a judge, her first response is, “I love the opportunity to actually answer that question.” Then she continues, “The truth is, I think there are a lot of diverse paths to a state Supreme Court. As long as the path has made someone qualified to serve, a variety of different paths make for a better court, frankly.”
McCormack noted that going directly from academic to Supreme Court justice has been more prevalent in the past, though United States Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan came directly from the Harvard faculty. Perhaps the best-known Michigan example of that is Justice Thomas M. Cooley, the deeply respected legal scholar who was a faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School.

And that is exactly the current position McCormack holds, as she noted when she visited Muskegon/Muskegon Heights last Monday.

She is a professor as well as the associate dean of clinical affairs, under which she has founded and co-directed a wide variety of law school clinics. These include the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which is the first innocence clinic in the country to focus on disproving the guilt of wrongfully convicted people where there is no DNA evidence; the Juvenile Justice (see page 2), Child Advocacy and Pediatric Advocacy Clinics; the Human Trafficking Clinic (which maintains a national database of cases, which McCormack thinks is the only one in the country); the Environmental Law Clinic; and the Community and Economic Development Clinic, among others — 14 in all.

“If you look at what we work on in law school, in the classroom, it is studying appellate decision-making. It’s appellate decisions that fill the casebook, we’re dealing in appellate decision-making maybe even ad nauseam,” she says. “But I have the added value of running these clinical programs, where I have a regular practice in the state Supreme Court. I won the [Cooley Law Review] Distinguished Brief Award this past year, I’m known to the justices.”

Retiring Justice Marilyn Kelly has endorsed her, and McCormack notes that she had no personal relationship with the former Chief Justice, that the endorsement was based on her history of practice before the court.

McCormack is passionate about the concept that the Supreme Court should be free of partisan influence. In Muskegon, she and campaign manager Traci Kornak (of the Grand Rapids firm Traci M. Kornak P.C.) emphasized that their campaign is being run independently of the Democratic Party.

Comments McCormack, “Well, I don’t mean to be in any way critical of the Democratic Party. I appreciate them for nominating me. But the partisan nature of our nomination process, in my view, coupled with current campaign finance law and the nonpartisan nature of the ballot, doesn’t create an independent judiciary.”

She also feels very strongly about a related issue, she told the Muskegon audience: the “drop-off” rate where voters ignore the non-partisan portion of the ballot.

In fact, McCormack feels so strongly about it that she engineered a reunion of the cast of The West Wing.

Her sister Mary McCormack is an actress who played a role in that popular, sometimes ground-breaking television show about the United States president and his staff. The Bridget Mary McCormack  for Justice Committee paid for an approximately four-minute public service announcement to encourage all voters to look for, inform themselves about, and cast their votes on the non-partisan races.

All the quirks of the ensemble cast are retained in the fast-paced reminder, in which Bradley Whitford calls people’s failure to vote on the non-partisan section a “crisis, a catastrophe, an apocalypse.” Other former West Wingers in the video include Martin Sheen, Alison Janney, Lily Tomlin, Richard Schiff, Janel Maloney, Joshua Malina, Melissa Fitzgerald, and Bridget’s sister Mary.
There are two versions, one — which can be found at — features Bridget McCormack asking for people’s vote; the other is not candidate-specific and is at https://www.
There was also a “making-of” segment broadcast on the syndicated TV show Extra.

McCormack stresses that, if elected, she would focus on working collegially with the other justices regardless of their political persuasion. “I  have good relations with those on both sides of the aisle, and I would love the opportunity to sit around the table and talk some of these things through. If I mean anything when I say non-partisanship, then it should b clear that it won’t matter to me that the court has this many Rs and that many Ds.”

McCormack graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., with highest honors and then went on to New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar, won the Ann Petluck Poses Prize for Advocacy, and received her JD. She then worked in New York City, as trial counsel at the Legal Aid Society and at the Office of the Appellate Defender. She taught at Yale Law School immediately before joining the University of Michigan Law School in 1998.

Published widely on such subjects as constitutional law, criminal law, criminal procedure, and legal ethics, McCormack has received the Justice for All Award from the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s Patriot Award, and the Justice Caucus’s Spirit of Millie Jeffrey Award. She is also on the Association of American Law Schools Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Her husband and fellow University of Michigan Law School faculty member, Steven Croley, is on leave from U of M to serve in Washington. He was the Special Assistant to the President for Justice & Regulatory Policy and is now Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy White House Counsel. Croley and McCormack have four children.

McCormack states, “I’ve been teaching law students now for 16 years about the important role the judiciary plays in our system, where being right is more important than being powerful or popular. I think I have a good perspective on where our system works well and where it works less well.

“I hope to be able to make an important contribution.”