A bill introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives last week aims to create a new Court of Appeals district in the state, and pack it with six new justices in the state’s predominantly Democratic regions.
House Bill 5131 was introduced by Rep. Phil Skaggs, D-East Grand Rapids, on Oct. 12. If passed into law, Michigan will add a fifth Court of Appeals to the four courts already established. The law would also reduce from seven to six the number of justices required to staff the courts.
“House Democrats are shamelessly scheming to pack the Michigan Court of Appeals with six new judges. They’re fast-tracking this bill through the Legislature with no scrutiny and no regard for the public’s right to input. This is wrong,” Rep. Graham Filler, R-Ovid, said in a statement.
“There is absolutely no need for additional Court of Appeals judges in Michigan,” Filler continued. “The number of case filings has not increased, and our current Court of Appeals judges are more than capable of handling the existing caseload with efficiency and fairness. Adding six new judges is a clear case of court-packing.”
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Filler likened to bill to an attempt to gerrymander Michigan’s courts of appeals.
“These judges are disproportionately allocated to key Democrat strongholds, clearly making this move nothing more than a craven political maneuver,” he said. “Manipulating judgeships like this undermines the fundamental principle that our justice system should be blind to political affiliations and free from partisan influence. This is nothing but partisan influence.”
According to the bill, the “judgeship in district 1 occupied on October 1, 2023 by an incumbent whose term expires January 1, 2025 and who is not eligible to seek reelection terminates on January 1, 2025 and must not be filled by election in 2024.”
The guarantee six judges fill courts in districts 3, 4, and 5, the bill includes the following strategies:
(i) In district 3, 1 new judgeship shall be filled by election in 2024.
(ii) In district 4, 1 new judgeship shall be filled by election in 2024.
(iii) In district 5, 4 new judgeships shall be filled by election in 2024. The 2 candidates that receive the highest and second highest number of votes are each elected for a term of 10 years. The candidate that receives the third highest number of votes is elected for a term of 8 years. The candidate that receives the fourth highest number of votes is elected for a term of 6 years.
“The lack of transparency and public involvement in this process is deeply troubling,” Filler said. “The House has two committees dedicated to addressing issues related to the courts and the criminal justice system, yet this bill is being quietly and quickly rerouted through a different committee with no experience working on these issues and no opportunity for public scrutiny. This raises serious questions about the majority party’s intentions and its need to avoid public oversight and accountability.”
Filler concluded: “Such a significant overhaul of the court’s structure demands careful consideration and open debate, not a politically motivated plan crafted behind closed doors and rushed through the Legislature.”