When Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen was nominated by President Trump last month to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, more than 30 of her colleagues at the University of Michigan Law School sent a letter to Michigan’s two U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, “to express enthusiastic support.”
The fact that dozens of lawyers and legal scholars could agree on the contents of one letter is, alone, an impressive testament to Larsen’s character. But it remains to be seen whether the senators, both Democrats, can cast aside Washington partisanship to support this obviously qualified nominee.
Larsen boasts an impressive resume. She graduated first in her class from Northwestern University School of Law and went on to clerk at the vaunted D.C. Circuit and for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She also served as an assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel and has been a professor at the University of Michigan Law School for nearly two decades.
During what has been described as a “lifetime dedicated to legal scholarship,” Larsen has exhibited both a willingness to listen, and a firm, polite insistence “that doctrine is not endlessly malleable and that statutes mean what they say,” her colleagues wrote. Larsen noted last year, “my job is to faithfully interpret the work of the Legislature. ...If I thought I was any good at crafting policy, I would be in a different branch of government.” That attitude makes her exactly the type of justice more than 80 percent of Americans want to see appointed to the Supreme Court: one who will “interpret the Constitution as it was originally written.”
Larsen would be an asset on the federal court. Before she can be confirmed by the Senate, however, Larsen must be approved by Sens. Stabenow and Peters in accordance with the “blue-slip rule” — a tradition that extends to home-state senators the courtesy of signing off on judicial nominees before the Judiciary Committee holds a hearing.
Stabenow and Peters have yet to say whether they will support Larsen. Stabenow tepidly told reporters, “we’ll go through our process and review and get input.” Peters also pledged to vet Larsen’s record, adding that “judicial independence has never been more important for the strength of our democracy.” But if Peters truly wants an independent judiciary that rises above partisanship, then endorsing Larsen is a no-brainer.
Her colleagues also noted that Larsen’s “personal integrity and decency are exceptional.” Michigan voters, for whom Stabenow and Peters work, have already endorsed the judge: In a three-way race for re-election, last year, Larsen won almost 60 percent of the vote. Stabenow and Peters should put principle above partisanship and support Larsen’s nomination.
Pete Lund is the Michigan state director of Americans for Prosperity.