State’s leading jurist leaving behind a legacy of increased accessibility, engagement, efficiency, and independence in the judiciary
Today, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack notified Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by letter of her plans to retire from the bench no later than December 31, 2022 (but not before November 22). Chief Justice McCormack became the 108th Justice—and the 9th woman—to join the Court when she was sworn in as an Associate Justice on January 1, 2013. She has served as Chief Justice since January 2019—only the 6th woman to do so.
In a letter to her colleagues and Court staff, she wrote:
“A decade can be a common measuring point for personal and professional change. Over the last 10 years, my kids grew up and went off to college and graduate school, we bought a pickup truck and an RV, and I have had the honor of serving as Chief Justice for the past four years. Making good on a campaign promise I made in 2012, I have given my every effort to do justice and to make the Michigan judiciary as fair and accessible as possible. After a decade, the time has come for me to move on, to let others lead, and to build on a foundation of progress.”
Chief Justice McCormack’s accomplishments are many. She established and secured grant funding for Michigan’s Justice for All Commission, which will continue to build innovative solutions for Michiganders who can’t afford a lawyer to solve their legal problems. The Michigan Judicial Council, which she also secured grant funding for and which she has chaired, has issued a comprehensive strategic plan for the state judiciary. It is a roadmap to a court system that builds trust and confidence by serving people and communities transparently and with respect and dignity.
The Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which she co-chaired with Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, has made Michigan a national leader in safe and sensible jail and pretrial policies, and subsequently chaired the Jail Reform Advisory Council, a body which is facilitating implementation of reform legislation. She worked with legislative leaders and the governor’s team to secure funding to create a statewide case management system to give Michigan courts data and tools to make the courts more open and efficient. She also co-chairs the Governor’s Task Force on Forensic Science.
Chief Justice McCormack has served as Vice President of the Conference of Chief Justices, and chairs many Conference initiatives. She is the Vice Chair of the American Bar Association Council on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar and an advisor on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Access to Justice Project. She is a senior strategist in the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Future of the Legal Profession Initiative.
In a letter to the judiciary, including nearly 600 trial court judges statewide, she wrote:
“Over the past 10 years, I have always been inspired by your example and your courage to meet every challenge, to innovate, to engage our communities, and to model the values of independence, equity, and fairness that are the bedrock of our judicial system. I want to express my gratitude for your hard work and dedication to Michigan’s judiciary and the people it serves. Most of all, I am proud of our work together to make courts more accessible. You have proven that justice is not a place, but a process and that the process must be navigable to those whom our system of justice serves. Thanks to all of you, I am confident that Michigan will continue to be a national leader in access to justice.”
“Bridget sets the standard for what a Chief Justice should be: independent, positive, fair, clear-thinking, and engaging. In a world that has become increasing partisan and angry, she is a voice of reason, compassion, and thoughtfulness,” said Justice Elizabeth T. Clement. “At the same time, she is funny, down-to-earth, and plainspoken—always interested in family and your well-being. She has become a dear friend, and her colleagues and I will miss her on the Court.”
Chief Justice McCormack also expressed thanks to the Michigan Legislature and Executive Branch for their support and investment in the future of the judiciary. “As I step down, I want to share my appreciation for the support from the other branches of government, and I look forward to the Court continuing to build on the solid foundation we have already established. I am grateful for their hard work to build relationships and for sharing our vision of a judiciary that is more accessible, more transparent, more data driven, and more efficient.”
Chief Justice McCormack has made no announcement yet about her future plans. By tradition, chief justices typically serve two, 2-year terms.