Don’t fix a bad law with a crazy one

Guest Editorial
You can “fix” a pothole by blowing up the road, but it’s probably not a wise solution. In much the same way, Republicans in Lansing are fixing a problem with the Michigan Court of Claims with a system that is even more partisan and nonsensical than the one they are blowing up.

Michigan, like every state except Louisiana, built its legal system on English common law. This included the Latin adage “Rex non potest peccare” — “the King can do no wrong.”

In the Old World, the ruling class was above the law and immune from liability. In Michigan’s first decades, the state was king. It could not be sued.

A half century ago, this changed with the creation of a Court of Claims to hear contract and tort cases against the state. State government is based in Lansing, and for the sake of convenience, the Court of Claims was made a function of Ingham County Circuit Court.

Today, Ingham County is a Democratic Party stronghold. Its judges are more liberal than the Republicans who control power elsewhere in Lansing.

Flexing political muscle, Republicans are replacing the Ingham court with a system where lawsuits against the state would be heard by four Court of Appeals judges picked by the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court.

Democrats are powerless in Lansing, and their protests failed to slow Senate Bill 652, which sped from introduction to the governor’s desk in only three weeks. The legislation also expands the Court of Claims’ jurisdiction to include cases involving whistle-blowers, civil rights, environmental issues, the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

This last part is especially troublesome. It has the stink of a back-alley approach to amending the state constitution.

A problem is, any appeal of the new law would go to the very same Court of Appeals that is taking over for Ingham County. Republicans have created a “heads-we-win, tails-you-lose” method in which the court will hear appeals of its decisions.

This is appalling. Bruce Timmons, a Republican and one of the state’s most respected voices on judicial issues, predicted “a deleterious effect on the system of justice in Michigan.”

The staunchly conservative editorial page of The Detroit News condemned the legislation and noted it must backfire on Republicans when Democrats regain control of the top court.

Reforms of the Court of Claims are inevitable, but replacing an outdated system with absolute craziness isn’t a solution. It’s folly.