Though elected as a Republican in 1994, she became increasingly critical of her fellow Republicans on the state’s highest court. Within the last few years she was openly feuding with them. Late last summer, Weaver abruptly resigned from the court, under an arrangement where the governor appointed Judge Alton Davis to replace her. Davis, however lost the November election.
That wasn’t the end of the controversy, however. Last fall, former Justice Weaver then released transcripts of court deliberations she secretly recorded, saying the public had every right to know how the court went about making its decisions. That horrified most of her former colleagues, who resented being taped without their knowledge. Five voted to censure Weaver. But in a long conversation yesterday, she told me she couldn’t care less.
“We need openness in government,” she said.
“That’s what this is all about. We need reforms, yes. Reforms in the way justices are selected and elected.”
But she said any reforms “will have little effect unless we can open the inner workings of our Supreme Court to public scrutiny.” She called what we have now a politicized disgrace.
“We need transparency. Not a secret club of seven justices from the Detroit-Lansing beltway, joining together to promote agendas of partisan or special interests,” and deciding cases in ways that fit their own personal agendas, or biases and prejudices.
Now, as a journalist, I am in favor of as much openness in government as possible. But I asked former Justice Weaver, aren’t there times when the business of the court has to be done behind closed doors? Of course, she said.
“Employee issues, for one thing. But there are far fewer things that need to be done in secret than those currently in charge would like. Look,” she told me. “The Michigan Supreme Court does not deal with treason or sedition or national defense. Its docket covers people issues from A to Z -- adoption to zoning, crime, contracts, et cetera. This is the people’s business.
“The public‘s business should be conducted in public. Needless secrecy on the court not only allows, but encourages the abuse of judicial powers.”
None of this will come as a big surprise to those who have followed the Michigan Supreme Court in recent years. In fact, Betty Weaver has been so outspoken that four of her fellow justices tried to clamp a gag order on her four years ago. She ignored it.
“But my position has been misconstrued,” she told me. “I never talked about a case that was pending. But the public needs to know how and why justices make their decisions.
“The business of the court,” she told me, “is to be just and fair, objective, impartial, dignified and dedicated to the rule of law and common sense. The only way that will happen,“ she argued. “is with direct and unhindered public oversight.“
But while openness is her big cause, there are a lot of other things about the Michigan Supreme Court that former Justice Weaver doesn’t like. And she has some interesting ideas about the way to change that. Later this week, I’ll tell you more about our conversation, and share those ideas with you.