Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and Elizabeth Welch are poised to win Michigan Supreme Court seats in a race that became a hot topic in the state.

LANSING, Mich.—Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and Elizabeth Welch have won the Michigan Supreme Court seats, based on unofficial election results Wednesday. That shifts the balance of the court from a conservative majority to a more progressive stance.

The Michigan Supreme Court race became a hot topic this election. 

The court decided in mid-October to strike down the authority Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to make various protections against the spread of the coronavirus, powers she used to great effect in the early days of the pandemic. That decision made the race for seats on the court a central focus for a lot of Michigan voters. 

“If the balance shifts blue it means tremendous progressive change, and it’s no minor miracle that Democrats and Progressives are in solid agreement on the two nominees,” said progressive activist Bridget Huff. “It would give power to the people in many ways, and would lead to a more unified party.”

Chief Justice McCormack and Welch were both endorsed by Democrats, which swings the partisan balance of the court into a more progressive direction. That means cases like the one striking down Gov. Whitmer’s emergency powers might be decided differently going forward. 

McCormack has, as chief justice, guided the entire Michigan judiciary into the 21st century by embracing new technologies, making it easier to access courts and making the process of operating the courts more transparent. The need to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic accelerated her work considerably, and as such Michigan is a leader in the nation on integrating technology in the courtroom.

Prior to her time as chief justice, McCormack taught at Wayne State University’s law school and has focused her political campaigns heavily on promoting the nonpartisan section of the ballot as a whole. 

Welch is a lawyer serving the Grand Rapids area for 25 years, dealing with individual and small business law. She’s also worked as a trained arbitrator and mediator. Importantly in this moment, she’s done a lot of litigation in state and federal courts on issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on businesses and individuals. She’s also an expert in election law.

Welch, for all intents and purposes McCormack’s running mate, told Michigan Radio that the debate over executive power is reflective of deep divides in America today. She said the question she’d ask of any use of executive power, like Whitmer’s pandemic protections, is if the response to a crisis is appropriate and well-defined under law. 

While parties nominate and enforce Supreme Court candidates, they are nonpartisan, and McCormack made it clear that partisanship isn’t the job of a jurist.

“On the Supreme Court, it doesn’t matter if you’re the chief justice or an associate justice; there’s always a contested race, and that just kind of comes with the territory,” McCormack told The ‘Gander. “Frankly, I think your job when you’re a judge is to ignore it. To be able to be honest and uphold your oath, you have to be willing to lose friends and lose elections. That’s the only way to do this job.”

For more information on how this relates to the other races in the 2020 election, keep up with our results coverage.