Stick with me on this. It’s confusing, but very interesting.
Under the constitution of 1908, Michigan had eight justices on its Supreme Court. With a solid Republican majority, John Dethmers became the first so called permanent Chief Justice. He was Chief for six years from 1956 to 1962.
In 1962, Thomas (the Mighty) Kavanagh wanted to become Chief. The court was evenly divided. Dethmers stayed on as Chief because there were not five votes to elect someone else.
Finally, to end the deadlock, Paul Adams, a Democrat, broke ranks to vote for Leland Carr, a Republican.
Kavanagh never forgave him, and in the November election supported the Republican, Mike O’Hara, against Adams. In return, O’Hara promised to support Kavanagh for Chief.
O’Hara defeated Adams, and Kavanagh was elected Chief Justice in 1964.
I was elected in 1966, defeating Otis Smith, a Democrat. The court was still eight justices in 1967, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Gene Black wanted me to be the Chief, but I declined. He then joined the Republicans to put Dethmers back in the center chair.
In November of 1968 O’Hara and Ted Souris were due to run for reelection. When Souris decided not to run, the constitution of 1963 required that the Court be reduced to seven.
That left O’Hara as the only incumbent on the ballot. He lost to Thomas Giles Kavanagh. Thomas the Good was reelected in 1976 and was alone on the ballot again in 1984.
His opponent was Dorothy Comstock Riley.
Dorothy had good support among members of the Bar, women’s organizations, and of course the Republican Party which nominated her.
The only issue she campaigned on was her qualifications. She had experience, both as a trial judge and on the Court of Appeals.
Still, almost every news conference in cities across the state would eventually turn to the case of Kelley v Riley.
Was she running to seek revenge for being ousted?
What did she think about the Court’s action in that case?
How did she feel about it?
Did she think she could work with Soapy Williams?
Dorothy gave short, evasive answers. She never took the bait. She was determined to travel the high road, conscious that if she won, she would be working every day with men who had rejected her the year before.
Still, there was no way to prevent it. Riley v Kavanagh became a reprise of Kelley v Riley, a referendum on the Court’s ouster of Dorothy Riley.
The response of the people was resounding.
Dorothy Comstock Riley was returned to the Supreme Court.
Thomas the Good was ousted by the voters.
The Michigan constitution of 1963 provides that no person can run for judicial office after their seventieth birthday.
Born in 1911, G. Mennen Williams was ineligible to run for reelection in 1986.
In January, 1987, the Court elected his successor as leader of the court. The vote was unanimous. Three Democrats, three Republicans and Charles Leonard Levin elected the second lady to serve as the Chief justice of Michigan.
Dorothy Comstock Riley.
What goes around, comes around. That’s what they say in politics.