Newest Michigan High Court Member
Justice Viviano Tells What It Takes
To Merit a Hearing Before Supreme Court
"We turn down more cases than we accept," exclaimed Michigan Supreme Court Justice David F. Viviano, speaking June 18 to the Eastside Republican Club Forum at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial.
He explained that while citizens have an automatic right to trial in the judicial system, not every case appealed to the Supreme Court is accepted at that level.
"The court doesn't even hear every case where the Court of Appeals was believed to be wrong," he said.
For a Supreme Court hearing, Justice Viviano explained, "Cases are accepted when there are broad policy issues, or constitutional implications."
Devotion to 'Rule of Law'
He said he welcomes the opportunity to advance the rule of law. The justice noted that instead of trying to divine elected lawmakers' "original intent" the court should base decisions on a law's "plain meaning."
"This helps legislators to know that the court will consider their words."
It's just the opposite of judicial activism. "That's when judges are motivated to use the courts to subvert the democratic process."
Justice Viviano said judges don't make, change, or approve the law, and by respecting the right of the people, they are able to judge consistently.
He noted that in every proceeding, the best argument and facts should prevail, regardless of feelings or finances.
"Courts are for the benefit of the litigants, not judges, or lawyers," he explained.
Seven Members of Court
Giving his impression of fellow justices, he said, "My colleagues are congenial and hard working." He noted that they have been helpful to him as the newest justice."
He was also quick to praise the professionalism of the court's staff.
"I am honored to join this rule of law court with justices Young, Markman, Zahra, Kelly, McCormack and Cavanagh," he said.
Although nominated by political parties, he said justices rely on grassroots support during their campaigns for their non-partisan positions.
Because the Michigan Constitution allows vacancies on the Supreme Court to be filled by gubernatorial appointment only until the next general election, Justice Viviano will stand for election in November 2014 to fill the remaining two years of the vacated term. The full eight-year term for the seat will then be up for election in 2016.
Assuming he run chooses to run, Justice Brian Zahra will also stand for election in November 2014.
Finally, as the Constitution requires Supreme Court candidates to be under 70 years of age at the time of election, Justice Michael Cavanagh's seat on the bench also will be on the 2014 non-partisan ballot.
He recounted experiences working for the family flower store his grandfather founded 70 years ago.
Since then, a number of Viviano's have served in elected office. His father, Judge Antonio Viviano, recently retired after serving Macomb County as both a circuit court and probate court judge.
In February 2013, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Justice Viviano to the Supreme Court filling the vacancy created by a resignation. Previously, Justice Viviano was a judge of the Macomb County Circuit Court, to which he was elected in 2006 for a six-year term, and served in that court's criminal/civil division.
In 2011, the Supreme Court appointed him to serve as chief judge of the circuit court and of the Macomb County Probate Court. As chief judge, he oversaw operations of both courts, including spearheading the circuit court's e-filing pilot project and other technological innovations.
He and 11 other judges were selected by the Supreme Court to test a comprehensive package of jury reforms in a pilot project, and the Supreme Court adopted many of them in 2011. The National Center for State Courts praised the Supreme Court, Justice Viviano, and other pilot project judges for their “courage and commitment” in pursuing jury reform.
Before becoming a judge, Justice Viviano worked at two nationally recognized law firms, Dickinson Wright PLLC in Detroit and Jenner & Block LLC in Chicago. He then founded his own firm in Mt. Clemens, where he concentrated his practice in commercial and criminal litigation, zoning, and real estate law. He also served as city attorney for the city of Center Line.
Justice Viviano graduated in 1994 from Hillsdale College with highest honors and from the University of Michigan Law School in 1996. His five sisters and one brother are also Hillsdale College graduates.
The Eastside Republican Club Forum is normally held on the third Tuesday of the month from September through June. Admission is free and the public is always welcome.