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Bankole Thompson: Whitmer cheapens judiciary with Bolden nomination to Michigan high court

Throughout history, the ascension of Black judges to the highest reaches of the judiciary was anchored on their exceptional qualifications powerfully demonstrated by their approach to expanding equal justice under law. 

Their elegance, brilliance and professional independence allowed for their elevation to the nation's highest courts without question or criticism. Their body of legal work was free from political leanings and partisanship. 

The late Black judges Damon J. Keith, Anna Diggs Taylor, A. Leon Higginbotham, Constance Baker Motley, Karen Fort Hood and Thurgood Marshall all possessed these. They were not political hacks. They were not subject to the whims and caprices of either political party. 

But in appointing lawyer and state representative Kyra Harris Bolden to the Michigan Supreme Court this week, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discarded the legacies of these eminently able judges who earned their seats on the judiciary through their unquestionable credentials and mastery of the law. 

Bolden, who would become the first Black woman on the state’s highest court, is perhaps one of the least qualified to sit at the apex of Michigan’s judiciary. Her selection by a Democratic governor, who has a wide appetite for symbolism rather than substance, is a classic example of White liberal tokenism.  

That Whitmer would select a legislator with a very thin legal resume and zero judicial experience and place her on the state’s highest court is a massive disgrace to the pool of competent and longstanding Black judges and attorneys all across Michigan. 

Bolden brings nothing to the court aside from being a milestone for Whitmer. There are countless distinguished Black women on the judiciary who have served for decades in Michigan’s courts who were overlooked by the Democratic Party because they didn’t fit its political needs. 

This appointment disrespects the history of the significant role of Black judges and insults the intelligence of Black voters across the state.

Historically, the Black judges we revere met the needs of their time. Though young, they were viewed as the leaders who could shape their generation. They were highly respected and looked up to by the Black community. Their background matched their White counterparts on the bench. 

Bolden, on the other hand, though young, possesses none of these attributes in her body of work. This seems to be an empty political opportunity for the White liberal establishment to dangle a trophy in front of Black voters election after election. 

The late, legal luminary Lani Guinier, a former Harvard Law Professor and standard bearer on the subject of Black women and the law, wrote extensively about the need for Black representation to not just be physically Black but also have substance behind the face. 

With the historic appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, some have compared Bolden to her. The difference between the two is that Jackson brings a high degree of legal pedigree and judicial experience, and Bolden has virtually none. 

Whitmer's nomination of Bolden is not a cause for celebrating diversity. It is a time for deep reflection concerning the direction of the courts and whether we should lower the standards of excellence at the highest reaches of one of our most powerful and independent institutions. 

Whitmer lowers the bar with Bolden. By overlooking the pioneering legacies of Black judges and trailblazing lawyers, Whitmer has demonstrated she is more interested in satisfying her own political interests than in meeting the needs of Black Michigan residents.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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