GOP's Taylor loses high court bid

Traverse City Record Eagle

November 05, 2008 12:00 am

DETROIT (AP) -- Democrat Diane Marie Hathaway on Tuesday upset incumbent Republican Chief Justice Clifford Taylor to end conservatives' nine-year lock on the Michigan Supreme Court.

The win by Hathaway, a Wayne County circuit judge, came as a surprise because it's incredibly difficult to defeat an incumbent judge. It last happened 24 years ago. Taylor's party affiliation wasn't listed on the ballot but his incumbency designation was.

With 74 percent of precincts reporting, Hathaway had 49 percent, or 1,338,646 votes, to 40 percent, or 1,089,469, for Taylor. Libertarian Robert Roddis had 11 percent, or 315,205 votes.

"These things are very hard to see coming," Taylor said of the loss. "I have to say this: I ran the campaign I wanted to run."

Taylor, who was first appointed to the high court in 1997 by then-Republican Gov. John Engler, predicted the court would "take a hard turn to the left."

The high-stakes contest for an eight-year term followed a couple weeks of increasingly negative TV ads against both Taylor and Hathaway, including one that accused Taylor of falling asleep on the bench. Taylor vehemently denied the charge, and Republicans and a business group responded with ads insinuating Hathaway is soft on criminals.

"I'm going to bring fairness and integrity to the Michigan Supreme Court," said a delighted Hathaway, who was not even Democrats' first choice to run. "I realize that it is time for a change, and that our Supreme Court has not been fair."

The last time an incumbent Supreme Court justice lost was in 1984, when Dorothy Comstock Riley defeated Thomas Giles Kavanagh. Riley won election after being ousted from the court in 1983 by fellow justices because of a dispute over her initial appointment.

The 65-year-old Taylor, who sought a final term to hold together the court's core four-member conservative voting bloc, seemingly had several advantages. He raised a record amount of money and was listed as a justice on the nonpartisan ballot, where voters often pick incumbents because they know so little about judicial candidates.

But the 54-year-old Hathaway likely benefited from Barack Obama's big win in Michigan. She also got a boost organizationally from labor unions. She cast herself as a populist who would stand up for workers and ordinary people on a court where critics say corporations and insurers have too much influence.

The court is split 5-2 between justices nominated by the GOP and those picked by Democrats, though one Republican, Elizabeth Weaver, often breaks ranks to dissent in 4-3 rulings. So a Hathaway victory likely will give Democrats an advantage, especially in civil cases that have upset trial lawyers, unions and environmentalists. The same seven justices have served together for nine years.

Supreme Court justices make $164,610 a year.

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