College Dems welcome state supreme court nominee
About 50 University of Michigan students and alumni welcomed Samuel Bagenstos, a Democratic nominee for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court, to a College Democrats event Thursday night. Republicans have held control of the Michigan Supreme Court for most of the last two decades, and Bagenstos’ stated goal is to flip the court.
Bagenstos is currently a law professor at the University. He returned to this position after two years as principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the United States Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General Tom Perez.
Bagenstos’s career has been primarily devoted to civil rights advocacy. He has argued cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court four times, most notably in Young v. United Parcel Service, when he successfully argued on behalf of a pregnant woman, Peggy Young, who was illegally placed on unpaid leave during her pregnancy. The court ruled in Young’s favor and established new protections for pregnant workers.
Bagenstos is currently in the race for one of the two spots up for grabs in the November election. The incumbents, Elizabeth Clement and Kurtis Wilder—nominated by the state Republian party—are seeking reelection and new nominees Megan Cavanagh, Doug Dern and Kerry Lee Morgan will be on the ballot with Bagenstos.
He spoke about his vision for the court at the event on Thursday.
“This supreme court election is so important,” Bagenstos said. “We really can flip the court for the first time in 20 years and make huge differences two full eight-year terms up. And we’re going to have eight years of a progressive majority on the court if we can win this. That’s a whole branch of government that we can hold onto for a very long time and do a lot of really good things.”
Bagenstos repeatedly expressed his faith in a “blue wave” of Democratic votes in the upcoming midterm elections at the federal and state levels. He said he faces particular difficulty, even during a year expected to be a watershed for Democrats nationwide, because the Michigan Supreme Court elections have nonpartisan ballots. This means his party affiliation is not listed next to his name on the ballot, so voters unfamiliar with him will find it more difficult to differentiate between the candidates.
Public Policy senior Kellie Lounds, chair of College Democrats, shares this concern and said events like these serve the purpose of informing voters about these choices.
“We know that the Supreme Court is a super important race that we have a chance to make a huge difference in, but not a lot of people know about the candidates,” Lounds said. “And because it’s in the nonpartisan section, it’s a little bit more difficult to know who you’re voting for and make sure that you’re voting for someone who aligns with your values.”
Nonetheless, Bagenstos said he is unflinchingly optimistic, stating challengers have the best chance of unseating incumbents in years like these.
“If everyone does all the work, this is going to be a big Democratic year,” Bagenstos said. “I can tell you everywhere in the state I go, people are mad. People want change. People want things to be different.”
LSA junior Helena Harmon, co-chair of the Women’s Interest Committee of College Democrats, also attended the event and stated more attention should be paid to down-ballot races like Bagenstos’s.
“I was really interested in the different things that affect policy so strongly that we would never really think of,” Harmon said. “I think it’s really important that a race that’s maybe not as glamorous as governor or senator is here to talk.”
Harmon also emphasized the importance of student involvement in the upcoming election, saying students have a unique responsibility for civic consciousness.
“We’re adults, we’re the next generation voting,” Harmon said. “I think things are definitely hitting a fever pitch in our country right now, so it’s more important than ever to see what the political climate is because it’s all gonna be falling on our shoulders very, very soon.”