GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The new year marks the fourth time in state history women outnumber the men on the Michigan Supreme Court.
In the general election, Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack maintained her seat on the bench and East Grand Rapids’ Elizabeth Welch was elected to replace retiring Justice Stephen Markman.
The first time four women sat on the seven-member court was 1997, followed by female majorities in 2009 and 2011.
While 2021 represents a milestone year for the state’s highest court, it’s clear the justices think first about the work in front of them.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve focused that much on that specific fact,” Chief Justice McCormack told News 8 Monday on a Zoom interview with her female colleagues.
Justices Welch, Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Clement echoed that sentiment, while noting the excitement they’re hearing is primarily centered on younger people seeing significance in their representation on the bench.
“I can tell you that I’ve heard from a lot of younger women and young girls because this is the first time that they’ve either been aware of it or been around when it’s happening and it is very exciting,” Clement said. “My two daughters think that it’s really, really cool.”
Welch noted her virtual swearing-in ceremony last week garnered messages from people sharing their daughters or grandkids were watching.
“It was important to them that they see women reflected in leadership roles, so that was really meaningful,” Welch said.
In addition to hearing cases that reach the state Supreme Court, the justices’ workload includes overseeing Michigan’s 242 trial courts, which hear between 3 and 4 million cases total every year.
“It’s our job to make sure that those who are really the ones — I say boots on the ground — the courts that are doing the real work for citizens every day, that they get the support they need,” Cavanagh explained. “That to me is really exciting. About another person, be it male or female, who is committed to that administrative function of our court. To make it better for everyone else.”
That administrative work includes task forces the justices work on to change our court system for the better.
“We have the tremendous opportunity to support those trial judges in that work,” McCormack added. “That means, on our end, a lot of effort that maybe nobody ever sees, but may be the most important part of the job.”
It’s evident that priority outweighs thought devoted to any recognition the female justices receive as they begin a new term. And, as the newest justice pointed out, perhaps that represents its own milestone for the bench.
“It’s kind of refreshing that it’s not a big deal,” Welch said. “I think that’s a good moment in time to be. Where yes, it’s great to have female colleagues, have shared interests and backgrounds with our families and kids and all of the different issues that come with being working women, but the fact that it’s kind of not a big thing anymore? That’s great news.”