Politics

The most important race in Michigan this year isn’t political

Thankfully, Democrats picked an incredible woman with an incredible story. Bolden told Daily Kos that she “redirected her life” into the legal profession when she learned in college about what happened to her great-grandfather. In 1939, Jessie Lee Bond was lynched in Arlington, Tennessee, in broad daylight at the town square. His killers were mad that he had the audacity to demand a receipt for goods that he purchased. He was shot, hung, mutilated, and staked to the bottom of a lake. He was only 20. The authorities lied about it, the newspapers kept it quiet, and the coroner wrote it was an “accidental drowning.” This lit a fire in his great-granddaughter to pursue a career that would seek justice for others.

Bolden became a member of the State Bar as soon as she graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. She served as a criminal defense attorney, as a judicial law clerk for Michigan’s longest-serving circuit court judge who’s also Black, and became a highly successful civil litigation attorney. During this time, she kept noticing how poorly written laws were having a negative impact on people’s lives. “I asked myself, who’s making these laws?” She once again redirected her path. This time, she would use her legal expertise to make better laws.

Bolden announced her first political campaign in 2018, where she ran for the District 35 seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. She defeated a crowded primary to become the Democratic candidate. She handily won the election and won reelection in 2020 as well. Unfortunately, the state legislature in Michigan has been gerrymandered for maximum Republican control; yet Bolden managed to write five bills that became law. Even though she is a proud Democrat, she worked closely with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to get the necessary legislation passed.

Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden

​Just as with her time as an attorney, she became angry when she noticed injustices. On one trip to a prison, she met staff members whose job it was to repeatedly turn over comatose prisoners so they wouldn’t get bedsores. Michigan law had no exceptions for parole for the medically frail, even though this was cruel, expensive, and served no purpose. Bolden’s law, which had strong bipartisan support, now allows parole for nonviolent offenders who have significant medical conditions.

Bolden also wrote and passed an economic development bill; a bill making it easier to work Michigan’s probate system; a bill to help those who have been wrongfully imprisoned; and a bill that protects sex trafficking and abuse victims. She beat back bad legislation as well. She wrote an op-ed against a bill that would have effectively banned discussion in schools of lynchings, such as what happened to her great-grandfather. Considering she was in the minority party, her track record in such a short time is impressive.

In fact, Bolden was the lead candidate in the race for minority leader. However, while gearing up for that run, she was approached by Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who asked that she instead consider running for Michigan’s high court. Next year will be a crucial year for many critical issues coming before the court, and Michigan simply can’t afford to have a right-wing controlled Supreme Court. Bolden initially said no, although she was courted heavily by Democratic leadership.

With a new baby, she wondered if she should go the safe route, as she had the option to stay in office. Yet she told Daily Kos, “I decided I’m not going to sit on the sidelines. I have an obligation to protect the future.” She knows the law, and she’s proven herself time and again.

Right after giving birth, she hit the campaign trail. 

Now let’s look at Brian Zahra, the Republican incumbent she’s trying to unseat. He’s a Federalist Society judge who was appointed to the high court by disgraced former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Zahra has been heavily backed by the DeVos family and is about as right-wing as they come. How extreme? He voted with the minority in a 4-3 decision that claimed school districts didn’t have the right to ban guns from their schools. He opposed any discipline for a judge who wrongfully jailed children over a custody fight for refusing to interact with their father. He ruled that a woman who was raped by a deputy at the county jail had no grounds to sue.  

Zahra has taken nearly $130,000 in donations from insurance interests, and coincidentally has consistently ruled in their favor. He ruled on banning medical providers from suing insurance companies, and always ruling in favor of the insurance companies over the victim no matter how outrageous the situation.

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Republican candidate for re-election to Michigan Supreme Court, Brian Zahra

Next year, the high court will be faced with whether or not Michigan can go forward with a 91-year-old law that bans abortions in all cases except for the life of the mother. Recently, a lower-court judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocks county prosecutors from enforcing the ban, saying the law written entirely by men almost a hundred years ago shouldn’t go into effect by automatic default. However, it’s not the final ruling. More than 750,000 Michiganders then signed a petition to put the ban on the ballot. The plot thickened when two members of the Board of State Canvassers tried to strike it, complaining that the kerning on the petition was too small. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Sept. 8 that this was ridiculous and that it can go to ballot.

Unfortunately, if Zahra manages to stay on the bench next year, he’s given a very good indication on how he will vote. Zahra has been endorsed by an anti-abortion extremist group that requires all of their endorsees to oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

As you might expect, Zahra’s not much into voting rights, either. He opposed putting an anti-gerrymandering proposal on the ballot, supported Trump’s bogus claims on election fraud, and supported seizing election materials for a bogus, partisan “investigation.” The Detroit Free Press admonished him for supporting “fanciful conspiracy theories other courts have deemed preposterous.” He’s also supported by the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, who made headlines for advocating children being forced to bear children.

If we lose these critical court races this year, it will be a huge blow to our democracy. If you want to see the damage a GOP-dominated high court can do, consider what just happened in Arizona in August. A voter initiative to roll back Republican-backed election suppression laws and expand tribal access was struck down by Republican partisans on the state Supreme Court who were added by Gov. Doug Ducey. (Over objectives from the chief justice, Ducey expanded the court to add his personal choices.) Even though the petition drive netted more than twice the number of required signatures, and even though the secretary of state, county recorders, and a lower court certified the Arizona Fair Elections Act for the November ballot, the state Supreme Court excluded just enough signatures to keep the measure off the ballot.  

Arizona’s GOP-controlled legislature put in place a “strict compliance” legal standard that meant even the smallest technical error could throw out tens of thousands of signatures. At the urging of right-wing groups, the state Supreme Court ordered an additional review until enough signatures could be thrown out. Republicans have put forth extremist candidates up and down the ballot in Arizona, so voter suppression is key to their victory. The Arizona state Supreme Court clearly puts partisan politics over the law to get the result their party wants. Don’t let this happen in Michigan.

These often overlooked races are crucial to protecting democracy, which is why Julia Louis-Dreyfus has joined Daily Kos in promoting Democratic candidates in key state Supreme Court races for this year. These races are that important.  

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Next year, the Michigan Supreme Court faces so many critical cases involving abortion, gerrymandering, LGBTQ+ issues, in vitro fertilization, and voting rights. We need qualified people on that court who will actually represent people and protect their rights. 

Justice Richard Bernstein is the other Democratic candidate running this year. He is an incumbent for reelection to the high court, and is the other Daily Kos endorsement for Michigan. Bernstein’s and Bolden’s victories aren’t just “nice-to-have” wins. For Michiganders, they are “must” wins.

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In Michigan, vote for this slate of candidates: Justice Richard Bernstein (incumbent), Kyra Harris Bolden, Judge Sima G. Patel

The other Republican candidate, attorney Paul Hudson, is running for Bernstein’s seat while Zahra seeks reelection—and he’s self-funding his race, so he is leading in the money race. Yet it’s Bolden who is in second place, relying on small contributors. Out of nearly 4,000 donors she has as of this writing, over 3,000 gave less than $100. Your money goes a lot further in Supreme Court races because the majority of money each cycle goes to the high-profile races at the top of the ticket.

Democrats are also stretched thin trying to put money into secretary of state races this year to safeguard our elections, since Trump Republicans are trying to get into positions so they can refuse to certify Democratic victories. Yet if that does happen, they will end up in court. These races are more important than the attention they are getting, but the good news is that money goes a lot further with these races.

If you can’t donate, consider volunteering with Bolden for Justice or one of the other state justice candidates closer to you. For donations, I urge you to contribute to the Daily Kos funds for the seven critical races in Ohio, North Carolina, and of course, Michigan.

Can you donate $10 or even $100 to help amazing Democratic candidates win state Supreme Court races in three key states this year?

For Bolden, it’s a new election, but she has the expertise, the knowledge, and most importantly, the character to serve. She didn’t take the easy route, or take the money train, or climb the political ladder while in her prime. She answered the call.  

Her critics can’t attack Bolden on her qualifications, so they’ve pretty much resorted to going after her youth, which in my opinion is actually a strength. We have more than enough people in positions of power to represent my fellow AARP members. I think a hard-working young mother is exactly the perspective the court needs. Additionally, Bolden would also be the first Black woman ever elected to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Her great-grandfather would be so proud.




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