In the last few decades, incumbent Michigan Supreme Court justices have typically been reelected, with only one incumbent judge defeated in the last 30 years. But history aside, what would happen if Diane Marie Hathaway defeats Justice Cliff Taylor today?

Based on campaign commercials alone, there’s not much to go on. Judicial ethics prohibit judges from commenting on pending cases and public issues, except when they release ruling opinions. And the Supreme Court race is the only one on the Michigan ballot that doesn’t list the party affiliation of the candidate.

Todd Berg, the editor of Michigan Lawyers Weekly, said those factors make it tough to predict how Tuesday’s vote will impact rulings.

As it stands, the court consists of five Republicans and two Democrats. Berg said four of the Republican justices and the two Democrats usually vote on opposite side of issues, while Republican Elizabeth Weaver, depending on the issue, votes with either the Democrats or Republicans.

If Taylor, a Republican, is defeated, many decisions could come down to Weaver’s vote, with the three Democrats including Hathaway voting in one bloc and the other three Republicans voting in another.

Hathaway said she would have an independent judicial philosophy if elected to the Court.

“I am neither left nor right. I follow the law,” Hathaway said. “It’s not the job of a judge to let his political agenda interfere with his rulings. The law is the law. And that is what must be respected and upheld.”

Research on campaign finances by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, show both Taylor and Hathaway receiving funding from an array of different sources.

Rich Robinson, executive director of Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the candidates have raised more than $2 million combined and that an additional $1.78 million has been spent on their campaigns by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee. He said the funding could cause conflicts of interest for judges.

“There was a study in the 1990s in which, 80 percent of the cases selected had a litigant or counsel that made a contribution to at least one justice,” Robinson said.

Hathaway has repeatedly accused Taylor of showing favoritism toward the insurance industry through her advertising.

Colleen Pero, Justice Taylor’s campaign manager, disagreed with Hathaway’s assessment, saying the Taylor court has brought clarity to Michigan law.

Pero said the Michigan Supreme Court developed a reputation for having no majority opinion on a number of cases in the 1980s. The Court would issue three or more opinions and the justices would not back any opinion by a majority, thus failing to make any of the statements law, she said.

“It was a period of time when you could not be certain how the court would come down on one issue or another,” she said.

Pero also defended Taylor against the notion that consistently ruling in favor of a group, like the insurance industry, was a display of favoritism.

“We have to get away from a statistical analysis,” she said. “You should look at whether or not the court is applying the facts of the case.”

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