We continue our profiles of short-listed potential nominees to replace Justice John Paul Stevens with a non-judicial candidate, Jennifer M. Granholm, the current governor of Michigan.

As Jennifer M. Granholm is nearing the end of her second and last term as governor of Michigan, she is once again on a short list of possible candidates to replace a retiring U.S. Supreme Court justice.  If she serves on the high court, she would be the only current justice to have held a state wide political office, to have no previous judicial experience and would be the first former state governor to sit since Earl Warren retired in 1969, in addition to being the third female member of the court.

While Granholm was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, her family moved to California when she was a child. At 18, she became a U.S. citizen. She was an honors graduate of both the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard Law School, where she edited the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review. While at Harvard she wrote articles warning about the potential threat the civil liberties presented by an increasing surveillance society and by the lack of transparency and access to public information. After graduating law school in 1987, she and her husband moved to his native state of Michigan, where they eventually had three children.

Following Harvard, she was a judicial clerk for Judge Damon J. Keith (a Johnson nominee) at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Granholm became a federal prosecutor in Detroit in 1990, and apparently enjoyed a 98% conviction rate. In 1994 she was appointed Wayne County Corporation Counsel, the county’s top legal job. In 1998, Granholm was elected Michigan’s first female attorney general, the only Democrat to win state-wide office at that time.  As an initial test, she succeeded in a political battle with the Republican controlled legislature, which made a failed attempt to strip the office of attorney general of several core powers. She opened a high-tech crime unit and focused on consumer protection, environmental regulations, and hate crimes.  Granholm was then elected governor of Michigan in 2002, and then re-elected in 2006.

Given her lack of judicial experience, her position on issues must be culled from her political activities.  For example, she has expressly endorsed Roe v. Wade and has vetoed proposed bans on late term abortions on the grounds that they did not account for the health of the mother, as well as attempts to narrow the ability of judicial authorization for under age abortions. Conversely, as attorney general she defended conservative abortion laws and wrote an opinion that taking RU-486 (the morning after pill) was legally tantamount to having an abortion.

Governor Granholm filed an amicus brief supporting the affirmative action program of the University of Michigan that was ultimately criticized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Grantz v. Bollinger. In response to Kelo v. City of New London, Granholm signed legislation prohibiting eminent domain powers unless a public use could be proven. Granholm has also expressed her opinion that the Ten Commandments are universal, and therefore had no problem displaying them in government buildings, although she intended to follow the federal law on the issue.

On other issues, Granholm has not supported legalizing same-sex marriage, but opposed amending the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman while also seeking legal protections for domestic partners.  She has initiated broad clean energy programs in Michigan and supports stricter emissions standards, but has also been a consistent advocate for the auto industry. She has enacted health care reforms that expanded health care in Michigan with the intention of making affordable health care universally available in Michigan, but without proposing a public option, a potentially hot issue with judicial challenges to Obama’s recent health care bill already underway.  Granholm has also signed laws regulating mortgages to reduce fraud and predatory practices, and providing various forms of assistance to unemployed workers. 

During her time as governor, Granholm has faced Michigan’s severe economic problems and budget shortfalls.  These have resulted in both raising certain taxes and imposing dramatic budget cuts, while still implementing other initiatives – “real world government experience” which her supporters claim is currently lacking on the high court.