Some of Justice Weaver’s views and actions have long been controversial. After she voluntarily left the court last summer, she made headlines when she revealed that she had secretly taped some of the court’s deliberations, and released transcripts of them.
That earned her a vote of censure from her former colleagues, but she said that didn’t bother her. Weaver says the state’s highest court is doing the people’s business, and so should be open to public scrutiny. That particular opinion may not be widely shared. But Betty Weaver is far from alone in thinking Michigan’s Supreme Court needs to be reformed. The University of Chicago law school ranked it as the worst state supreme court in the nation.
Last year, then-Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly told me she had real concerns about the politicization of the court. Now, she is co-chairing of a task force that plans to take a year-long look at possible reforms.
Betty Weaver says she welcomes the task force, because it will keep focus on the issue. But she also has her own six-point plan for how to fix the court, ideas which I think are worth hearing.
First of all, she’d do away with the current system where candidates for the court are placed on the ballot by the major political parties. She thinks they should earn a spot on the ballot by petition, which is what all other Michigan judges have to do.
She’d like to see justices elected by district, to allow some geographic diversity.
Currently, all seven justices live in only three counties, Wayne, Oakland and Ingham.
That’s why she was so keen on Judge Alton Davis of Gaylord being named to replace her. His defeat meant, she said, that two-thirds of us have no justice from our immediate geographical area.
Weaver also thinks we need to move to a system of public fiunding for judicial campaigns, and until we are fully there, she would require transparency and accountability in campaign finance reporting. That means knowing who is giving which candidate how much money, and being able to find out within two days. “We should allow absolutely no secret or unnamed contributors,” she said.
She’d also like term limits for justices -- perhaps a single term of fourteen years. I’m not sure why she thinks that’s a good idea.
But her last idea, involving what happens when a justice dies or resigns while in office, is hard to fault. Currently, the governor can name anyone he or she likes to the post. Former Justice Weaver would establish a broad-based Qualifications Commission.
They would provide the governor with two recommendations, and the governor would be free to pick one -- or pick someone else if they explained why. But in any event, the appointment would be subject to a public hearing, and then confirmation by the Senate.
You don’t have to always agree with former Justice Weaver, or even admire her style, to admit these are ideas worth considering. She told me she intends to continue to campaign for court reform, and may write a book about the subject.
I hope she does both.